See You Tomorrow
Nobody notices Y.B. Gordon. Not his colleagues. Not his wife. Even his son seems to stare past him. He wakes up in the morning while the house is asleep and stubs his big toe on the corner of the California king-sized bed frame. His wife does not stir. He reaches down to his alarm clock with a sigh, as if he might be done with all this getting up and putting on clothes in the dark. The sigh is a signal of his presence to himself. I am here, he thinks.
When Y.B. arrives home at night, his wife is seated on the couch, watching television or she is stowed away in the Jacuzzi bathtub. His eight-year old son will be asleep, curled like a saucer under the covers. Y.B. sits down at the edge of the twin-sized bed and reads the boy’s mystery books aloud. He smells the boy’s hair; searching for some sensation he can grab hold of. Sometimes he falls asleep on the floor. In the mornings, his wife usually utters announcements while fixing the boy’s lunch. She could be talking to the walls.
“Soccer practice at 5:30.”
“Garage sales with Martha Anne on Saturday.”
“Science Fair on Wednesday during lunch period.”
“Already told Jackie you can’t make it.”
Y.B. nods and screws up his eyes at the ceiling, trying to remember something useful and offer it as a counter announcement. Nothing comes to him. He turns off the lights and his wife turns them on. He puts the spoon in the sink and his wife puts it in the dishwasher. He steps outside and retrieves the paper, detaching it from the plastic casing. He takes his son to school and drops him off at the curb. The teachers wave him along, frantically, as if his mid-size economy car were taking up too much space for even those few seconds, as if the smooth running of the school were dependent on everyone throwing their children out the window as they drove past at less than 20 mph. He waves back to them, but they do not see.
At work, Y.B. sits off in the corner of plate-glass-enclosed meeting rooms, unnoticed, picking his nails or staring into the LCD projector’s bulb. The employees talk about him as if he wasn’t there. They blame him for their mistakes, their frustrations, their misgivings about work.
“It’s Gordon’s fault,” says Doris. “You give the guy a whole day to prepare these slides and what does he do?”
“I heard him asking Daniels how to print these out,” Van Buren says.
“Like you need to print out slides.”
“Like you need to ask Daniels anything.”
“And he schedules these stupid conference calls at 8:00 in the morning.”
Y.B. doesn’t prepare slides. He doesn’t schedule conference calls. He’s an internal auditor. He sits in meetings and listens to people argue about their business processes. He doesn’t take notes. If the company were to go public, the notes would be shredded. It wasn’t clear, even if you stopped and asked why nobody saw him. They weren’t consciously ignoring him. He just faded into the background of any particular moment.
Y.B. makes his suggestions to the Chief Financial Officer. Nobody understands what he does, but they are all terrified of what he says to the Chief Financial Officer. The truth is Y.B. does not even know what he does. At best, he is a virtual tape recorder, relaying information from one meeting to another. Even the information he relays seems to be either a sort of formalized grasp of the obvious or beside the point. Everyone agrees we should be increasing margin. Too much time is spent on inefficient manual processes. He drinks three cups of coffee a day. He places yellow and pink Post-It notes underneath the coffeemaker. “Brewed at 8:05 a.m. this morning.” He brings donuts or breakfast tacos and sets them on the cubicle desk opposite his own cubed workspace. Nobody speaks to him when they pick through the box.
Things may have gone along like this indefinitely, the routines taking a firm grip on life’s strange tangle. But one day, Y.B.’s cell phone rang. Y.B. didn’t answer his cell phone during the day. He let it go to voice mail.
“Mr. Gordon, this is Dr. Steckler’s office. Your son’s test results came back. Please call us at your earliest convenience.”