He realised quickly that his dark blue jeans and button-down white cotton shirt made it difficult to be apatetic in this club, yet he ceased to be noticed at the very moment he abandoned his attempts to blend in.
“Any fall from this height would certainly be fatal,” I said with a casualness that her response did not mirror.
“So jump,” she whispered just loudly enough for me to hear.
She turned toward me and the burning intensity in her gaze told me that her remark had been no parapraxis; she was ready to watch me fade from view forever.
“The anxiety you’re describing is born from a desire to know the unknowable. You would have precise – and beautiful, for their precision – integers assigned to pointless quantities, such as the passel of cars parked in this garage. It’s not that you want or need to know the exact number, but you feel like there should be one; that such an enclosed and permanent structure like this parking garage should have a calculable capacity, that this capacity is the reason it exists not as a twelve-level structure, but as a ten-level structure.”
I could no longer remember why he was telling me this. Had I made the mistake of saying I was anxious? The thought of having potentially committed such a blunder was the only cause of anxiety weighing on me now.
“What I’m trying to say is: nobody knows or cares how many cars are parked here. It’s not relevant to any reality we occupy. So why worry about these things?”
The technician who had been working on the pay machine next to where Carl was lecturing me stopped his work and tapped on a device that looked like a phone.
“There are one thousand, seven hundred and ninety three cars parked in this garage at the moment,” he said with a sly but detectable smile.
I couldn’t help mirroring this smile and I turned to reflect it to Carl.
“That’s a beautiful and precise integer, Carl,” I said, but my smile had escaped my attempts at restraint. All of my teeth were showing as I finished with glee.
“Now we can all relax.”
Carl turned to the technician and spoke with obvious irritation.
“That’s not the point I was trying to…”
His voice stopped when the technician held up a solitary finger. Behind him the boom gate was raising to allow another car to enter the garage. The technician let his finger fall in time with the lowering boom gate. The tenor of his voice was unchanged from his first report, but his smile was noticeably wider as he spoke.
“One thousand, seven hundred and ninety four.”
The ship was bobbing in a way that wasn’t aimless but struck her as incorrect. She had set out on a path and ended up here without wind or purpose. It didn’t look like the place she had imagined when she set out.
She plotted a new route with careful consideration of the bumps and detours that had spilled her here. She shifted the rigging toward her new destination and the wind picked up even as she did.
The sails began to billow as the wind filled them, slowly at first and then with a rapidity that she didn’t know how to handle but that she was confident would move her forward. The ship moved fiercely now and she made steadfast progress toward the coastline. She could see it now. The forms on the horizon were morphing into recognisable shapes.
Without even looking too closely she knew that everything and everyone she loved would be waiting for her there.
They would be expecting her.
The only sounds were those made by passing cars: the gentle hush of the hybrids, the hissing growls of the buses, the thunderous syncopation of braking trucks.
There was a breeze but the air was warm enough to keep dispositions unpleasant. Heat could still be felt radiating from the asphalt, though the sun had gone down long before. Fifty feet away a woman of indeterminable age smoked a cigarette and stood as though she were waiting on her life to come and pick her up. Judging by the look on her face, it was running late.
The breeze inflated a plastic grocery bag and stirred it into spastic motion that wouldn’t have been noticed at times when the sun was up and traffic was heavier and kids could be seen climbing into large family vehicles and heard laughing as they anticipated the ride to come.
This was not that time, though, and the smoking woman knew it as she rubbed the butt of her cigarette into the asphalt but did not check her watch or her phone or ask me what time it was.
This was a place where bad stories began.