Christopher stood over the maze of workday and eyed the sea. A thin fog cloud floated passed his perch on the 45th floor. On the docks, sea lions barked at tourists. East Bay traffic sought a faster path, ships hauled electronics in and almonds back out, and the blood-red sun sunk into late afternoon north of the Golden Gate.
In the conference room, five people sat in executive chairs around a table. Their faces reflected gloomy sullenness. They might as well said they intended two more hours of arguing and defensiveness. He crushed out his cigarette and flicked it at the trash can.
Across from a camera hunched a nervous man with a woman perched to the side wearing a mask. Christopher thought he could use some oxygen too. While the man told his story, the woman repeated what he said.
“Does she have to do that?”
“We need an accurate record,” said an attorney seated at the end.
“Isn’t the video enough?”
“I want to read it tonight.”
Christopher rocked forward. He ran his right hand through his gray hair and looked over at the man. “Forget the transcriber, Mr. Wells. The faster you answer, the faster we can get out of here.”
The nervous man explained his one-of-a-kind process. It required this and that and one thing or the other. It mattered little to those at the settlement conference. The questions rolled and the answers landed in a flat dud. Each person rubbed their eyes and wished for sleep.
Christopher turned to the window daydreaming of places far from this evening. He watched the sun drop into the ocean until the dying light filled the room.
Five hours over the vermilion bridge, he rolled down the fabric roof. Clammers walked along the beach carrying clam guns and pails. They smiled in the ocean air. Christopher breathed deep taking in a feeling of warm relief. The sea smelled sweet. Sentries of redwoods stood on the cliff and a lone tree marched out to the shore. He longed to join its rush to the sea. Away from him, he picked up the faint smell of skunk. Humboldt County Fog, he guessed. A guy in a beanie and a girl in flannel shirt smiled and waved.
He touched the dash. It felt solid although he still wore his virgin wool dress pants. He closed his eyes for a moment and opened them quick. A pair of 501’s and a wool cardigan replaced the virgin wool. He looked in the mirror and dark sunglasses reflected back. He settled into the car seat steering the wheel away from the sand.
The redwood forest rose above the ocean. Ferns and grass bunched up crowding the road. The path intruded on the stillness giving way to silence. Sentries of trees towered until only darkness touched the sky. The forest seemed to ignore his intrusion of their assembly. Christopher came to seek solace and the forest ignored him.
He slowed the car into a clearing. The tires crunched over cones, broken branches, and fronds. A hard thump echoed from the closing door. He regretted disrupting the surrounding cathedral.
He wandered over fallen trees and rocks. Over a ridge he scanned for the tree tops watching the breeze sway each branch. The trees reached a height beyond his imagination. He leaned against a trunk rounder than his height. He followed the ridges and cliffs of bark as high as he could see. It never ended. He guessed this tree stood stories tall long before his great-grandfather saw California.
The width of the tree circled around and Christopher stepped over ferns as he rounded it. A black ant carried a golden speck of pollen at the end of a mile long trek. It rushed to disappear under the surface of leaves going deep into the humus. Christopher looked around the clearing not seeing his starting point.
A beam of light surrounded a smaller tree with a pathway from the sky. Dust and insects crisscrossed the dancing light. Christopher stood in awe breathing in the serenity.
Christopher walked away from the big tree to stand under the light shaft. The illuminated tree stood tall like the last one except for its pure white branches. His shoulders shuddered and every tree seemed to step back with appreciation and respect for the tree. He reached up stroking an albino cone of pure whiteness as a subtle spark passed through his hand twinkling in the light. He rubbed together his fingers feeling the soft white powder. Energy flashed from his finger tips and floated to his core. He felt alive and full of wisdom.
The light around the ghost tree grew brighter and he stood alone looking up. In the light glow, Christopher’s face expressed joy.
“Is that what a nervous breakdown looks like?” asked Mr. Wells.
Christopher jumped back from the table. The room grew larger and a crowd standing around him snapped to attention. The transcriber braced Christopher’s back. He sank into a chair confused by the way everyone stared. A hand pushed him a glass and he sipped the water allowing himself to return to the meeting.
He surveyed the balcony. Stars touched the rooftops of the city and a helicopter searched over the bay. He stared outside while the others waited for him to say he felt alright. Christopher cleared his throat and everyone turned to him.
“Answers come at the strangest times,” he said.
“How do you mean?” Mr. Wells asked.
“All this means nothing. None of you should win.”
“But we are so close.”
“A settlement over a little slight?”
Christopher pushed himself away from the table. He stood for a moment before the people seated opposite him. He nodded, smiled, and looked up. They followed his gaze to the ceiling tiles where he saw his answer. The other people in the room only saw a crisscross pattern.
As they tried to understand the truth, Christopher gathered up his papers, turned away, and walked out the door.