Christopher stood over the maze of workday and eyed the ocean. 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 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 into the wastebasket.
A nervous man hunched from a camera with a stenographer perched to the side wearing a mask. Christopher thought he could use oxygen too. While the inventor told his story, the woman repeated what he said.
“Does she have to do that?”
“We need an accurate transcription,” 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 hair and looked over at the inventor. “Forget the transcriber, Mr. Wells. The quicker 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 sea until the dying light filled the room.
Five hours over the vermilion bridge, he opened the fabric roof. Clammers walked along the beach carrying clam guns and pails. They laughed in the ocean air. Christopher breathed deep taking in warm relief. The surf 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 a flannel shirt smiled and waved.
Christopher touched the solid dash. It was real, 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 replaced his wool pants. He looked in the mirror and dark sunglasses reflected his face. He settled into the car seat steering the wheel from the sand.
The redwoods 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. 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.
Christopher wandered over fallen timbers and rocks. Over a ridge he scanned for the forest tops watching the breeze sway each branch. The woods reached a a prominence beyond his imagination. He leaned against a trunk rounder than his stature. He followed the ridges and cliffs of bark as high as he could see. It never ended. Christopher guessed this tree stood stories tall long before his great-grandfather arrived in 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 and failed to see the clearing’s 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 as stood tall as the last one. This one though had the purest white branches. His shoulders shuddered, and every tree stepped back with appreciation and respect. He reached up stroking an albino cone of pure whiteness. Then a subtle spark passed through his hand twinkling in the light. Christopher rubbed together his fingers relishing the soft white powder. A jolt of energy flashed from the tips and floated to his core. He felt alive and full of wisdom.
The light illuminating the ghost tree shown 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 became larger and the crowd surrounding him snapped to attention. The transcriber braced Christopher’s back as he sank into a chair confused. Everyone stared. A hand pushed him a glass, and he sipped the water allowing himself to return to the meeting.
Christopher surveyed the balcony. Stars touched the rooftops of the city and a helicopter searched the bay. He pondered the outside while the others waited for him to say he was okay. 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 slight?”
Christopher pushed himself 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 his answer revealed itself to him but no one else. The others in the room only recognized a crisscross pattern.
As they tried to understand the truth, Christopher gathered up his papers, turned away, and walked out the door.
© 2016 – 2019, Michael Shawn Sommermeyer. All rights reserved.
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