Everything seemed business as usual. Honking throughout congested roadways. Nine to fivers eager to get back to abandoned office buildings and fill empty desks. The highways lined with big rigs, exhausting charcoal colored smoke from horned antennas. No more silence. Quite the opposite to the norm we adopted these last nine months. It took me a good ten minutes to move the car from park to reverse out of the driveway. There was a subtle awkwardness in everything I did, moments of rehabilitation to remembering what once was. The sky was clear. The air was fresh with the scent of the morning dew, yet something was different. Around this time of year the leaves had already fallen and the earth returned to it’s dormant state. There were lush green trees and patches of assorted flower beds surrounding various parts of the city. In between these forms of artificial life stood steel poles ranging up to 200ft. They spiked through the skyline like spider legs from extraterrestrial beings. These were not your average cell towers. I took the usual scenic route to the office and could see a number of them stationed throughout the parks, convention center, museum district, and other venues readily available to the public. They seemed to be strategically placed like some sort of active sentinels from the future. Losing my focus, I almost ran a red light. A group of joggers heading towards the park, some shouting expletives and one banging her fist on my hood, crossed. A cluster of nannies and small children followed.The further I drove along the more spurts I saw of people returning to their daily routines. It was as if no one had noticed the changes that had taken place. From what I could see it didn’t seem to bother any of them.
The thought of returning to how things were, or would be, didn’t scare me one bit. I figured the reset couldn’t do any more harm than good. I circled the parking garage for the eleventh time before finding a makeshift spot on the top floor. The fifteen minute ordeal only transitioned into me joining the cue outside of the elevator that lead into the building lobby. So much for getting to work on time. I still had about five minutes to spare. You could fit about ten people on average in each of the elevator cars. After counting up to my place in the line, I managed to squeeze past the elevator doors with the group ahead of mine. We all stood shoulder to shoulder. The idea of social distancing was a thing of the past. I was up close and personal enough to smell the aftershave of the gentleman in front of me. My throat itched and the corners of my eyes watered as I fought back trying to clear it in that moment. Pointing my mouth and nose in opposite directions, I made the most unwelcoming facial expressions. I let out an almost silent cough into my jacket before an elderly woman in the back mustered up a bless you. Everyone looked up from their phones and immediately put a halt to whatever it was that they were doing. I couldn’t see the dirty looks but there was a sense of hostility that made you feel it. I would’ve done the same I guess, it was still early. There was an expedited vaccine out, but it was still unclear who all had access to it. One by one the elevator cleared out until there were only two us that remained. In the past I enjoyed the luxury of being on the penthouse floor, but now it seemed like a curse. I never had a problem with confined spaces but today my breathing dragged on a bit longer than usual. The panoramic view on our floor had once brought a sense of peace, now it was a birds eye view to an unanticipated future. The towers stood all over the city. Panels of silver nodes sprouted out like limbs on the end of their mechanical branches.
I had a minute left as I sat at my desk. Around this time I’d have a cup of coffee in the break room. There was banter and small talk, I had no interest in, manning the entrance. I learned how to play the piano. We landscaped our front and backyard. I built a shed for my wife. The exchange of stories and ‘survival of the pandemic’ were no different from the headlines on the five o’ clock news. I wouldn’t have shown up if it wasn’t for the briefing with the top heads. My boss, being one of them, reached out on occasion and told me about the meeting weeks ago. He wouldn’t be there. I had to walk past his office in order to get mine. There were folders on his desk, piled high, and sheets of paper scattered in disarray. It was just as he had left it, a mess. I opened my company email, which I checked daily, and there were no new messages. The alert from the calendar flashed with a ten minute reminder to the upcoming meeting. It was the only thing I had scheduled throughout the remainder of the year. My anxiety from the multitude of notifications I’d receive, and fear of not checking messages as they came in, became nonexistent. At one point I began resenting this new found liberation. It was all for the good I guess, even if the changes stopped there. I turned off the monitor and followed behind the rest of those waiting to hear their fate. Even in the midst of uncertainty, we were all in this together.