M. D. was busy moving numbers from the database to the spreadsheet when a barely audible ping coming from his computer’s speakers broke his concentration. Glancing at the corner of the screen he saw the pop-up that read, “You have mail.”
He pulled the pointer to the box where a click of his mouse button caused the spreadsheet to disappear and the company’s email server to fill the screen. It took him a second to acknowledge the name on the message’s address line. And a few more to accept that it could really be from her. Wavering between hesitation and excitement, M. D. opened the email.
“Hey Moondog,” the message began. “I’m out of prison and staying at the Compton Street halfway house. I can have visitors from seven until nine. Your name’s on my list. Megan.”
M. D. rose from his black leather and plastic hydraulic roller chair, stood, and looked out his office window onto the alley below. Five floors down he could see into an open dumpster, not quite piled to the top with trash. That’s a clean dumpster. Wonder if there’s anything good in there.
The sound of the office door flying open caused him to spin around. Bill Seeger burst into the room. “Did you hear? Masterson in accounting got fired for gambling. He was in deep debt. They didn’t even give him time to clean out his desk. Just escorted him out of the building. Gone.”
M. D. checked the surprise in his voice as he responded, “Seeger you always get the gossip first. How’d the company even know?”
“Masterson got an email from his bookie.” Seeger answered. “Ever since those two guys in receiving got busted for downloading porn, all our computer activity has been monitored. Walker in security reads everything that comes in. Now the accountant’s gone.” Seeger slowly shook his head before adding, “Don’t forget, it’s your turn to buy lunch. Gotta run.”
M. D. looked at the message on his screen. How will the company respond when Walker gives them a copy of that? They’re gonna want to know why I got mail from someone just out of prison. Great. How can I explain Megan?
M. D. sat down at his desk. His hand reached for the mouse to delete the email, but he found himself clicking on reply instead. “OK” was all he typed before sending the message. That should appease her without making a commitment. Besides, I can tell Walker that OK means nothing.
M. D. closed the email and returned to the spreadsheet. He stared at the columns and rows of numbers. Meaningless numbers. It was in Seattle, no maybe Tulsa. The packing crate that had held an upright freezer. We dragged it five blocks just to put it in the alley behind the deli. Those people didn’t let anything spoil. That was the best dumpster in Seattle. Yeah, Seattle. It was cold. We had those sleeping bags under us, and we would wrap together with the blankets over us. That was nice. Lying there side by side. The bottoms of her feet would rest on the tops of mine, my knees nestled in behind hers. Her breast filled my hand. I always fell asleep with my face buried in her dreads.
M. D. jerked at the sound of his office door sliding open. Walker! He breathed a sigh of relief; it was only one of the mail-clerks. Crossing the burgundy carpeted floor to the desk the clerk handed M. D. the correspondence before asking, “Got any outgoing?”
“No.” Then he remembered the two packets going to advertising. “Oh yeah, these. See ya tomorrow.”
Her dreads. She had beautiful red hair. Her skin was so pale. And so many freckles. A smile crept across M. D.’s face as he closed his eyes, folded his hands on top of his head and leaned back in his chair. How long did it take. Not long. Maybe a week. Yeah. By the time we had been on the road a week her hair was dingy from the dirt. And her skin. Black specks inhabited her pores. And I was no cleaner. How many showers did I take that year?
If I don’t get back to work, I’ll be back there. M. D. returned to the process of transferring numbers from one chart to the next. Prison. Why was she in prison?
At lunch, M. D. sat picking at a blackened chicken sandwich accompanied by a spinach salad. He silently watched Seeger devouring a plate of shrimp fettuccini. Florida. It was in Florida. Megan was diving for food. She was wearing her red dumpster-hoodie, and her green eyes sparkled through the dirt when she held up that clear takeout container with a full salad and half eaten sandwich and declared, “Today we eat like royalty.”
Being with her felt like royalty. Did we fall in love, or did we just fall?
“Hey, hey. M. D. we got to hurry,” Seeger chided his friend. “You’re sittin’ there staring into space.”
“Seeger, I think I got a problem.”
“Well, tell me about it.”
“I once spent a year living homeless. It was my girlfriend Megan’s idea. The day we graduated high school we took off. We left everything behind. Literally. We took no IDs, no credit cards, no clothes, no nothing. All we had was $59.45 in cash. We were going to spend six months as transients, then write a book.
“A year later we were still living on the streets. Sleeping wherever we could find a spot. Existing in and out of shelters. Eating from dumpsters.”
“Wait a minute,” Seeger interjected, halting his fork, with thin ribbons of fettuccini dangling down the edges, mere inches from his mouth. “Not really out of dumpsters! Not trash dumpsters?”
“Oh yes,” M. D. quietly assured him, his eyes dropping to the table.
Seeger stared at M. D.
“Near the end,” M. D. continued. “I was arrested for shoplifting. They found a couple hits of LSD on me and I did six months shock time in prison with a five-year parole. When I got out, I said I’d had enough, returned home, and went to college, and then to work for the company.”
“They don’t hire people with a record,” Seeger frowned.
“I lied on my app. Apparently they didn’t run a background check.”
“Why bring it up now?”
“I received an email from Megan this morning. For some reason she’s been in prison…”
“And Walker’s read your email.” Seeger finished the sentence while gently nodding his head. “Six months ago I’d have said screw it. ‘Course six months ago the company wasn’t reading emails. Now, the corporate sharks are looking for any fish they can devour. Bet they’ve run that background check by now. I’d kiss my office goodbye if I was you buddy.”
“You know what? That was the best year of my life.”
When he returned from lunch the first thing M. D. noticed was the Post-It note placed precisely in the middle of his monitor. The block letters read, “meeting room 1 today.” It was signed, “Walker.”
Jackson and Peters will be there. And of course, Walker. They’ll have me sit across the table from them where they can easily watch my demise. I’ll keep an eye on Walker. I’m done for if he begins tugging on his hundred-dollar tie.
The clock in the lower right corner of the computer’s screen read 12:55. M. D. slipped his suit coat on and stepped into the hallway.
Slowly he made his way to the meeting room. Through the opaque glass paneled wall he could make out three figures sitting along one side of the table. One of them, who appeared to be Walker, was adjusting his tie.
M.D. wiped the perspiration from his palms, stepped up to the red oak door and reached for the silver inlaid doorknob. Over his shoulder to the right he heard the elevator doors open as two secretaries returning from lunch exited the copper colored box.
Pivoting, he took the half dozen strides to the elevator; entered, pressed the black plastic button marked with a white L, and watched the doors slide shut.
He left the building, gave his coat and tie to a panhandler at the nearest subway entrance, jogged down the stairs where he jumped the turnstile, tossed his smart phone in the trash, and began running towards the sign that read Compton Street Station.
Joe Cover has a Masters in Creative Writing and teaches Creative Writing at Missouri State University and Ozarks Technical Community College. He has published short fiction in Straylight and the Moon City Review as well as haiku in the Haiku Journal. He lives with his inspiration, his wife, in a 90-year-old house in rural Missouri.