One day, I decided to challenge myself, see if I could just sit down and write a story. This was a completely different, unique process for me, because generally, either a story (or, more accurately, an opening scene) comes to me out of the ether and pesters and pesters and pesters me until I finally relent and sit down to write it out, see where it goes—or, I’ll have some vague conceptual ideas that I begin chewing on in my head, putting different elements together, re-arranging them, adding to them, until something clicks, and I think it’ll work—and then I’ll sit down and being working on it.
In other words, sometimes they’re impulsive, and sometimes they’re engineered. And sometimes these methods work, and to my eternal astonishment, I get a completed story; and sometimes they don’t, and the incomplete fragments end up sitting in a file stored away on my computer, collecting dust.
This time, however, I thought I’d just go for it, with no prior ideas, no opening scenes running in my head. I simply sat down, opened a blank file, and began typing. And this was what came out:
For Future Reference
by Rand Eastwood
The summer heat seemed to push back against the heavy glass door as I backed my way through it and out into the day, both arms occupied by a sizable box laden with office supplies and personal effects, my briefcase dangling below from one straining, white-knuckled hand.
The sudden rush of the outdoors—the smell of hot asphalt, the pulsing hiss of traffic, the stifling humidity—engulfed me as I made my way to my car, squinting in the glaring sunshine as my cargo prevented me from plucking my sunglasses from my shirt pocket.
I still felt numb; I didn’t know what I was going to do now. My mind raced over a million thoughts at once, a million possibilities, none of which seemed very promising. Sure, I knew the company was having problems—hell, in this economy, everyone was struggling—but thought my twenty-five years there would insulate me from the impending layoffs.
I was wrong.
The meeting had been short; just long enough for me to sign some papers and accept my final paycheck—they paid me though the end of the week—all of which I slipped flippantly into my briefcase like so many forgotten business cards.
After stowing the box in the trunk and tossing my jacket and briefcase in the back seat, I left the parking lot exactly as I had thousands of times before—could probably do so blindfolded—turned right onto Main, and headed for home.
It felt odd, driving along the front of the building like I had done countless times for so many years, the black line of tinted office windows running along the front of the gray building, all the way to the west end—where old, concrete docks thrust out above recessed loading bays.
Back in the day, those docks had bustled with activity, all the bays occupied (and usually several trucks waiting their turn in the back lot), forklifts beeping everywhere and dozens of workers hauling pallets around on jacks and hollering to one another.
I had started my career there, on those docks, loading and unloading trucks and endlessly moving freight around inside. Worked my way through the warehouse, into management, and eventually upstairs into what—until today—was my office as Director of R & D.
Today, as I drove past for the last time in my life, I saw one lone truck backed in, and couldn’t see anybody at all on the dock. It looked eerily like an abandoned warehouse.
Which, come to think of it, exactly matched the feeling I had right now.
Abandoned, and alone.
And I didn’t know what I was going to do.
Arriving home an hour earlier than usual, I smelled her as soon as I opened the front door—even over the wonderful aroma of something Italian wafting in from the kitchen, and the scented candles eternally burning in the entryway; her lovely perfume, along with that light, powdery, feminine aroma that was unmistakably and uniquely hers.
My anxiety immediately began to fade. Abandoning my briefcase by the front door, I made my way back to the kitchen.
Amongst the rattling of kitchen utensils and clanking of pots and pans, I could vaguely hear her humming to herself as I approached, which brought a smile to my lips as I quietly entered through the swinging saloon-style doors.
Her back was to me. Her long, black hair, pulled back in a banana comb, tumbled down her back. She was just closing a lower cabinet, skillet in hand. Turning toward the stove, on which sat a big pot belching clouds of steam, she suddenly saw me and stopped in her tracks, skillet suspended in the air before her.
“You’re home early,” she said, matter-of-factly.
I didn’t know how to break the news—or even if I should yet. I didn’t know what to do. So, for now, I faked it.
“Yeah, not much going on at the office today.” I shrugged. “Business is still really slow, and I got tired of pretending like I was doing stuff.”
I pulled out a chair, flopped my suit jacket over the back, and sat, yanking at my tie to loosen it.
She set the skillet down beside the stove and opened another cabinet, producing a wine glass.
“Well, good!” she said, turning and placing the glass in front of me. “We can have an early dinner, then actually spend a quality evening together for once.”
“Yep,” I concurred as she stepped behind me and opened the fridge.
She returned with a cold bottle of wine. Bending over the table to pour, her white blouse fell open, offering up ample cleavage, as if she were just another enticing dish to be enjoyed along with the rest of her home-cooked dinner.
Amazing; after all these years—even with a little extra padding here and there—she was still so beautiful, so sexy. I grinned again, my crotch tightening a bit.
She looked up at me with those big, beautiful brown eyes, and grinned back—only hers was a different kind of grin; the kind that made me wonder what was up.
“Jeff called today,” she said, excitement building in her voice. She walked to the still-open cabinet and retrieved another glass.
“Yeah?” How’s he doing?”
She turned back quickly, clasping the bottle and glass together against her belly, a huge smile on her face. “He got the scholarship!”
“Great!” I exclaimed. “He’s been worried about that,” then, pausing to think, I revised my statement. “I’ve been worried about that.”
“We’ve all been worried about that,” she added, walking back to the table. As she filled her own glass, she continued : “His classes start next month, and he’s been waiting all summer to find out about the scholarship. He’s been so worried that he wouldn’t be able to finish his degree.”
“Me too. But he got it, eh?”
“Got the letter this morning. Got all of it, everything he applied for. Just in time!”
“Now that’s something to drink to!” I proclaimed, raising my glass into the air.
She raised her glass. “To Jeff, and to scholarships.”
“To Jeff, and to scholarships,” I echoed.
We both took a drink.
One less thing to worry about, I thought. Jeff is set now…but what am I going to do?
She eagerly sat down next to me, and put her hand on my arm.
“He’s met someone.”
“You mean a girl?”
“Yes. Name’s Amy. She’s a biology student there. He’s really excited, couldn’t stop talking about her. Wants to bring her home to meet us over Thanksgiving.”
I nodded in approval. “Biology student, eh? Guess chemistry and biology would have a lot in common…” I took a sip of wine, contemplating this.
“And you’ll never guess where they met!”
I looked at her, and she was looking at me in such a loving way I knew exactly what she was going to say. Both of us smiling ear-to-ear, we said in unison:
I couldn’t stop the rush of warm feelings that ensued. We had met at the campus library ourselves—same school, same library—but in our case, I was an engineering student and she actually worked there, at the reference desk. She was always there to help, and practically nursed me through many difficult projects as I pursued my degree. She always knew exactly what I was looking for, exactly what I needed, and exactly where to find it.
Didn’t take long for me to fall in love with her, and we had married upon my graduation. And even back then—graduating with no money, no job, not knowing what I was going to do—we sat down and she helped me figure it all out.
“Even if it means taking a job in a warehouse somewhere, and working your way up from there,” she had told me.
Throughout my entire life, whenever I didn’t know what to do—like when “we” were pregnant with Jeff, or when we bought our first house—she would sit down with me, and help me figure it all out. She always knew exactly what I was looking for, exactly what I needed, and exactly where to find it.
In a way, she has been manning the reference desk of my life for all these years.
“Takes after his old man,” she said as she stood.
I looked up into her eyes, and the last of my anxiety immediately vanished.
She bent and kissed me on the forehead, then returned to the stove, moving the skillet onto a burner with one hand while gently stirring the contents of the steaming pot with the other.
I would not tell her tonight; no, we would spend a quality evening together for once.
Tomorrow. I’ll tell her tomorrow—and then she’ll do what she’s always done.
Right now, I may not know what I’m going to do; but at this moment, looking at this lovely woman—I realize that I know all that I need to know.