Friday, July 31, 2015

Free Fiction: Focused

Jordan preferred not to wear his glasses. The world became fuzzier and friendlier when the glasses came off. Instead of sharp edges and frowning faces, he saw blotchy colors and heard intonations. People schooled their features more strictly than their voices, but their words and inflections betrayed them. Jordan more readily perceived the truth of them instead of the fa├žade when it was all out of focus. Being one step away from frowning countenances and glaring eyes kept him more on task and less distracted.

He took care not to squint when he removed his glasses. In a society accustomed to laser surgery and contact lenses, glasses one day and gone the next were barely noticeable. Obviously, he wore his corrective lenses when he drove to and from work, but in his cubicle he tucked them into a drawer. His eyesight was good enough that he could see the computer screen and perform his work, but past the half-barricade of the cubicle rampart, everything grew blurry and indistinct.

Usually, Jordan also donned earbuds. Nifty, wireless, high-fidelity earbuds that he’d ordered from a specialty store and that were designed to cancel ambient noise as well as provide excellent sound quality. Jordan adored his earbuds. But sometimes the buds made the inside of his ears a little sore, and he lamented not purchasing the older style headphones that went on over the ears. He’d been a bit vain in that decision, and the irony did not go unnoticed. He removed his glasses so he couldn’t see the fads and fashions of his co-workers, and yet he’d succumbed to wearing stylish electronics so he wouldn’t look outdated or weird to them. Today, no matter how he adjusted them, the buds wouldn’t fit quite right, so he left them out.

The ebb and flow of office traffic didn’t disturb him too much and the low-voiced conversations about children, gardens, sales at the supermarket, cats, dogs, idiot drivers during the morning commute, upcoming vacations, and the like were mostly easily ignored. One co-worker’s nasal, grating voice could cut through the air like a clam rake, disturbing everything and everyone, but the other co-workers usual shut her down as quickly as possible. No one had the stamina to converse long with her.

Sometimes people congregated for extended periods and their voices grew louder, and sometimes the conversations weren't about harmless things like surprising roadwork popping up in dense traffic areas causing frustration, but about other, more personal things. Rocky relationships, heartbreaks, and health problems. Jordan eavesdropped, because he couldn’t focus on his work with the distracting conversations. Some days, he grew annoyed at the disruption and banged away at his keyboard, or took himself off for a walk through the corridors.

But, then the contract employees showed up. The company had been hired to change out some wiring in the floor and ceiling and update some electrical panels, and were scheduled to be there for at least three weeks.

They were messy and noisy, and they got in the way. They left ladders in the most annoying places, and heaps of wires, and bits of trash strewn all over the carpet. Two of them were older, grizzled, with variously ample potbellies. The third was younger, and smaller. He was thin, and could squeeze into the tightly spaced ceiling or floor just far enough to keep the project going. Friendly, outgoing, and genial, it was hard not to watch him. His forearms were muscled and tan, and he wore a ragged, faded baseball cap with a logo that Jordan couldn’t identify. His jeans had a distinctive rip at the knee, which he wore almost every other day. The other pair he wore were beige cargo pants with a splash of dark green paint on the lower left rear hem. He wore a different blue company t-shirt every day.

Jordan started keeping his glasses on and his earbuds out.

He strained his senses to listen to their idle chatter, and he hopped up from his seat whenever they needed someone to help them with anything—an extra pair of hands, a brief trip to a locked-down area that required a chaperone, or just traffic control for the rest of the office. He learned that the young contractor’s name was Mike. The older two were Frank and George, and Jordan found himself happy for their amiable personalities and coarse wit. They made each other and Mike laugh all day long with wry statements and observations on the human condition, particularly the human condition in an office full of wiring. It made Jordan glad they’d come as a group, because they were far more interesting that way.

On the final day, they packed up their things and did a last vacuum for debris, and Jordan reluctantly watched them go. As the door closed behind them, and the sounds of the office returned to the previous level of dullness, Jordan slipped off his glasses and tucked them away, and then inserted his earbuds. It wasn’t quite lunch and he had the rest of the day to suffer through. It seemed odd to return to old habits, but without the blurred vision and constant music in his ears, Jordan wasn't sure he could put up with his co-workers for the remainder of the day. Next week would have to take care of itself.

He kept his glasses off at the end of the day as he walked out to his car. Everything seemed too harsh with them on, although he’d need them to drive, but for these last few moments, he preferred the blobs of color and unresolved images of the world.

Then, a blob of blue moved against his car.

Jordan reached into his pocket and fumbled with his glasses.

“Hey, there,” a familiar voice called.

The glasses slid into place and the world came into focus. Mike was leaning against Jordan’s car, and he was smiling. “Hi,” Jordan said. He slowed to a stop, unsure what was going on.

“We finished up today,” Mike said, “so the contract is over. Which means, technically, that my company is no longer associated with your company.”

“Oh?” Jordan replied, still not comprehending.

“Which also means, I’m not restricted from having only a professional relationship.”

“Oh,” Jordan said, now feeling an odd combination of enlightened, happy, and dumb. For all that he spent a lot of time listening to conversations, he wasn’t particularly skilled at having them, he decided.

Mike tilted his head. “Did I get the wrong idea? Or aren't you interested?”

“Definitely interested.” Jordan pushed his glasses up farther on his nose. “Just, uh, caught off guard.”

Mike laughed. “You didn’t think we needed that much help this whole time, did you? I was making up all sorts of excuses to get you to help us. George and Frank never had so much fun teasing me!”

Jordan gaped, and then closed his mouth. “And I thought I’d been so discreet!”

“Who cares,” Mike said. “The rest of your office is too busy talking to notice anything about anybody but themselves. Now, how about dinner?” Mike came closer to Jordan, and reached out. He gently tugged the glasses off Jordan’s face, and then kissed him.

Pulling apart, Jordan realized Mike was near enough to be in focus, even without his glasses, and that up close he was even more appealing than when he was just a fuzzy blob. “Yes,” Jordan said. “Absolutely.”

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