In the days ahead, he tried to forget about the interview, tried to shrug off what he had hoped it would mean. He threw himself into his work, took on extra shifts at the literary center and connected with old friends.
A week after the interview, he walked out of his apartment on the west side of St. Paul. He had moved from his father’s house about five months ago. It wasn’t exactly fun paying rent again, but the apartment was close to the complex, and it felt good to be back in a city. There were a lot of things that were neat about the location. Situated directly on Smith Ave., the apartment was little more than a few strides away from the bluffs, which offered panoramic views of downtown, the river and much of the area surrounding the West Seventh neighborhood.
He walked up Smith, away from the bluffs, towards a coffee shop that had quickly become one of his favorites and which was on the way to the complex. The Smith Ave. corridor wasn’t exactly one of the metro’s healthiest. While there were a number of locally-owned businesses lining the street, not to mention an active sense of community spirit, there were still many shuttered storefronts. Additionally, while some of the side streets had well-manicured lawns and had been recently-renovated, others had fallen into disrepair, resembling the tangled, derelict homes of Grey Gardens and Great Expectations, albeit of much smaller size.
The sidewalk was slick and, although for the most part shoveled, still marked by a thin layer of finely-packed snow. He trudged past the Capital View Cafe, then past the long-defunct Mohawk Theater, which loomed over the street heavy and brooding. Just as he was passing the dark, black windows of a bank, he felt the familiar vibration of his cell phone inside his pocket. He pulled it out listlessly, as he was sure that it was nothing more than one of the solicitors who seemed to pester him on a weekly basis. He looked at the phone and quickly began sucking in air. It was the headhunter firm that he had interviewed with.
His hand started shaking, so much so that he nearly dropped the phone. He took two huge breaths to steady himself, then he accepted the call and lifted the phone to his ear.
“Hello,” he said in what he hoped was a semi-stable voice.
“Hi, can I speak to… ” a voice began on the line. Just then, a large semi trundled up the road with a loud roar, pushing aside dirty snow and completely drowning out the caller’s voice.
“This is he,” he responded, assuming the caller had said his name.
“Hi, this is Jessica. I am calling to let you know that we’re pleased to be able to offer you the job.”
His head swam, and he blinked stupidly. The reality of the world was no longer credible. After months and months of becoming inured to dissatisfaction, to abject failure, he had no idea how to respond.
“Wow,” he said for no reason. “That’s great. Thank you.”
“You don’t have to accept right at this moment,” said Jessica. “You can give me a call back if you’d like. The client just wants to get an answer by the end of the week so they can get a start on filling out paperwork and getting you onboarded.”
“I will let you know by the end of the day. Does that work?”
“Sounds great; talk to you soon.”
He hung up the phone and stood silently against the exterior wall of the bank. He was stunned, in complete disbelief. Everything he had worked towards for the past few years had finally culminated into something. It wasn’t a dream position. It might not even be the start of a long-lasting career. Yet for the first time, he felt in-sync. The idea of who he was supposed to be and who he really was were becoming aligned. No longer was he profoundly out-of-step with societal expectation, with cultural connotation.
He turned around and looked at the darkly reflective windows of the bank he had been leaning against. Earlier this morning, the windows had been fogged-over, their parameters encrusted with frost and snow. They had been impenetrable, reflecting nothing aside from the haziest rendition of the sidewalk and street on which he was now standing. Yet the sun had come out since then, and the ice, frost and fog were slowly melting away, revealing more of the outside world, imbuing reflected features with greater contrast and clarity. And he could see himself coming into focus. Standing there before him was a man of medium height and medium build, of short, brown hair and dark brown eyes. A narrow, diamond-like face marked by sharp lines, high cheekbones and splotches of brown freckles sat tucked between a black and white wool cap and a grey alpaca scarf.
The window reflected, at long last, not just an idea, but someone who was real, valid and whole. A sense of peace came over him, a sensation that felt abnormal and to which he was unaccustomed. But it wasn’t a complete feeling. The sensation was muted, distorted, paired with a sense of darkness, the sense that he was a fraud. He was also dispirited and felt suddenly as if he was on the brink of inertia or lethargy. It was as if what had been driving him had suddenly disappeared, been leached out of his bones. He felt robbed, adrift, unmoored. He was devoid of order, bereft of direction.
He looked closer at the reflection that was congealing before him, deep into the eyes of the man in the window who was rapidly taking shape. There were no cars coming on the street in either direction, and the world around him had gone deathly quiet. Peering intently, he shuffled closer towards the window, drawing himself nearer to the deep brown eyes of his reflected self.
Within them, what he assumed was everything suddenly appeared as nothing. There was a blackness there, and he recognized that his social roles and professional positions, memories and experiences were built on unstable foundations. The animal-themed motivational posters that he had seen in the recruiter’s office during his interview with Jessica, and which he had thought were almost humorously stupid at the time, were no longer funny. It was just the opposite. His strange reaction to the poster about perseverance and eagles was back – yet it was deeper, harsher and infinitely more visceral, Because now when he imagined what was behind his eyes he could think of little more than bone and flesh, tissues and neurons, axons and dendrites, all of which were actively participating in the lie of his sense-of-self. The lie of his personhood.
Wrenching himself backward, he tried to scurry away. Yet this violent motion caused him to slip and nearly fall. After righting himself, he walked quickly further up the street, his reflection following him diligently in the bank’s windows until he turned a corner. Sound had blasted back into the world, and he could hear the wind rustling through trees, the hum of heating units in nearby houses, the whirring of cars as the moved throughout the snowy streets of his chosen neighborhood. He shuddered deeply and wasn’t sure if it was solely due to the cold. He continued to walk. And although he passed several other storefronts with large windows, he never again turned his head.