by Sarah MacKenzie
[Note: This story received honorable mention in the inaugural Stoneslide Story Contest. The 2015 edition is now open to submissions.]
The average life lasts 80.93 years. That’s 2,552,208,480 seconds. I’m 24 years old. According to StatsCanada I have 1,795,344,480 seconds left.
Now count the moments:
1. That talk you had with Ally in high school (900 seconds)
2. When you saw Dad cry (19 seconds)
3. When you had sex for the third time (1,380 seconds)
4. When you thought you had cancer (50,400 seconds)
5. The day Hansel broke his paw (8,280 seconds)
6. The first time you killed a bug, and got stung by a wasp immediately after (240 seconds)
7. When you lay on the hammock at your old house while it rained (7,380 seconds)
8. When Katie pity kissed you at prom (9 seconds)
9. When Marcel told you that you couldn’t be friends in elementary school (72 seconds)
10. When Anne died (201,600 seconds)
11. When Mr. Waldon told you that you were talented (10 seconds)
I have 23 moments in total. 545,178 seconds. That’s only 0.72 percent of my life that I’ve felt, or remembered. Only 0.72 percent of my history is significant. The rest of it I was just coasting.
I take the bus to work every day; I’m the only one in the office who does. They all drive Honda Civics and park them in the garage two buildings over. The bus stops right in front of 48 Aiker Street, the Roy Tailor Building. My company, Cradle, Court and Co., leases the top half of the floors.
I sell life insurance with 26 other people on my floor. Four of them look happy every day. Six of them look miserable every day. Seven of them always look indifferent. The other nine fluctuate. I look indifferent.
I don’t generally talk to my coworkers, but something critical has come up that’s prompted me to engage quite vigorously with their lives. The other day, preceding three hours of productive work, I decided to let my mind wander. I was looking through the window, past two blocks of buildings, at the on-ramp to the 407 West. I found myself picturing a faceless, suited man standing in the center lane of the highway, awaiting his death delivered by an oncoming bus. I estimated that he had 20 seconds till it would hit him, but he just stood there. Curiously enough he only started running in the final, 20th second. I wondered what he felt in that last moment that only then would make him want to run. I wondered, what was his push? At that moment, I felt something, and I looked around to see if I was the only one who had just experienced an epiphany of sorts. I was. Despite the lack of motivation apparent among my surrounding coworkers, a general sense of humanity forces me to conclude that in that second of dire consequence everyone feels a push.
So on Monday when Benjamin and I were in the fax room together, I asked him why he stays late every day.
“Not every day. Monday through Friday, the first three weeks of every month,” he stated and abruptly walked out.
This was the last week of November. Benjamin looks indifferent.
One day I took the elevator up to the fourteenth floor with Suzie, so I asked her, “What happened to that birthmark on your neck?”
She said, “It’s still there the first four days of every week.”
It was Friday. Suzie fluctuates.
Wednesday I brought my call records to Hans Gerald in his office, so I told him, “The picture of your wife is turned over.”
He said, “Oh, whoops!”, smiled, and escorted me out. Hans Gerald’s always happy.
Thursday, I tried to follow Eric around without him noticing. I was hoping something interesting would happen, but it never did. Eric’s indifferent.
I’ve decided to invade everyone’s privacy. I’ve decided to study life. I intend to tell my coworkers just how long StatsCanada predicts they will live, and just how much of that time they will take for granted, based on their so far seemingly wasted lives. I feel a moment is approaching.
An interview with Hans Gerald Finch:
Picture me, a smart car, puffing my emasculated gas out and buzzing in through the tunnel of Hans Gerald’s office door frame.
Picture Hans Gerald, some sort of 2009 red Buick with tinted glass and a shining exterior, halted by the road block of his pristine urban mannered desk.
The smart car shifts gears into park.
“Is your life insured?” I ask.
“Why, of course.”
“When do you plan on dying?”
“When do you anticipate you will die?”
“Hopefully not for a while.”
“Would you say 80.93 years is acceptable?”
“I don’t like to think about it.”
“How many hours a night do you sleep?”
“How is this relevant?”
“I’m conducting a survey for the betterment and continuing prosperity of this office. How many hours was that?”
“I don’t know. Six.”
“Do you like your life?”
“Do you want to be famous?”
He laughs. “No, those days are behind me.”
“How long have you been in love?”
“With Sandra? Since I met her. Three years.”
“How long have you been in love, total?”
“How long have you been loved?”
“Ha. I don’t know. You know, these are highly personal questions. I don’t think this is necessary.”
“What’s your push?”
“Are you talking about drugs?”
Hazard lights. Hazard lights.
“Ha! No… Well, maybe—is that your push? What moves Hans Gerald Finch? You know, family, love, religion, this job, a nice car, a fit body, an heir to your throne?”
His glossy eyebrows furrow together.
“What’s the difference?”
“Are we done?”
“Thank you, Hans.”
“Hans Gerald,” the engine revs. “Cut this out, will you.”
“Yes, Hans Gerald.”
Three point turn, and I spot a clue.
“Hans Gerald, your wife’s picture is turned over again.”
An interview with Suzie Vanveecherlidge:
I watch Suzie often. She sits at her cubicle, and works productively for ten-minute intervals. She takes breaks to lean back in her chair, spread her legs, and pick the ends of her gingery hair off. She’s on one of those breaks right now.
The smart car surges right, left, left again and forward.
“Suzie, do you have a moment? I see that you do.”
“Why don’t you go by Suzanne?”
“Suzie is what my nanny called me.”
“What did your parents call you?”
“What kind of car do you drive?”
“You know what kind—”
“Please. Answer the question.”
Picture Suzie, a faded blue 1966 Ford Mustang, windows always up.
“That’s thrilling. Is your life insured?”
“Have you ever been in love?”
“That hardly seems like any of your business, don’t you think.”
“Have you ever been loved?”
“What do you think?”
“Do you want my honest answer?”
“Where does that big birthmark go the last three days of every week?”
She laughs and smiles. It’s like she’s gloating. She’s a Mustang. I’m a smart car. We’re still driving right next to each other, Suzie.
“If you were standing in the center lane of the 407 and a bus was about to hit you, would you move out of the way?”
“Hmm. What’s your push, Suzie Vanveecherlidge?”
“What’s a push?”
“Fit body, nice car—you already have both of those, I guess—this job, a different job, a lover in Spain, your parents’ acceptance. What motivates you?”
“Fuck off. This is so unproductive.”
“Thanks, Suzie. I’ll see yuh.”
Tuesday night with Hans Gerald Finch:
Tuesday night I followed Hans Gerald home. I figure, first I observe, then I experiment; prove my hypothesis.
First he went to Sobeys and exited the store with one bag of groceries. A baguette was sticking out of the top and I could make out some sort of meat slab weighing the bag down. Next, he stopped to get gas.
All the while, I was having a cab driver pursue Hans Gerald, while I let only the top of my head be seen from the backseat window. It was difficult to conceal the cab at the gas station considering the limited amount of pavement, but Aldor and I managed. Aldor didn’t ask questions, but seemed quite thrilled by the prospect of following someone. I noted that there was no camera in the vehicle, but there was a sticker claiming otherwise.
Hans Gerald then pulled us into a lower-scale suburban neighborhood; the kind where everyone has a pool, but at the expense of driving mediocre vehicles and only having one front door. On Wiscose Drive, he pulled over to the curb, across from house number 243. He didn’t turn the gas off. He idled for three minutes, and then he left. Aldor and I stayed for 24 minutes, until I saw Olivia.
Olivia is a pretty blonde lady who looks like she was cloned from the cover of an upscale gardening magazine. She was wearing green khaki pants, a loose coral t-shirt, and a low limp bun. I know Olivia from four Christmas parties ago, when she and Hans Gerald were still married. I was new to Cradle, Court and Co. Hans Gerald Finch was all I could aspire to be in the office world.
After attaining my clue, I bid Aldor to drive me home. I left him a weighty tip.
I’ve never felt so enthralled.
An interview with Benjamin Sung:
I roll my windows up because Benjamin sometimes spits when he talks. He either doesn’t know or he doesn’t care. I think it’s the latter.
“Hello Benjamin. I’m conducting a survey for the betterment of this office. I just have a few questions.”
“What kind of car do you drive, Benjamin?”
“A Honda Civic.”
“Why do you always wear the same shirt?”
“I have a lot of shirts. They just look alike.”
Similar to the 33 Honda Civics in the parking garage two buildings over.
“What do you do in your spare time?”
“I don’t want to participate in this survey.”
“It’s mandatory. Do you like your job?”
“I understand you’re one credit away from completing your BA in chemistry. Why stop?”
“Maybe I didn’t like it.”
I think Benjamin has a flat tire, and just refuses to fill it up.
“Outside the shelter of your Honda Civic, if you were standing in the middle of the freeway and a bus was approaching at 110 kilometers an hour—”
“Do buses go on the freeway?”
“—would you get out of the way?”
“Interesting. Why do you stay late Monday through Friday the first three weeks of every month?”
“How is this relevant?”
Or maybe something’s wrong with the engine, but he doesn’t ever look inside to see.
“I need to know how you spend your time.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“What’s your push?”
“You know, what motivates you. What fuels your fire, Benjamin?”
Oil in the tank.
“Motivates me to do what?”
Or maybe there is no tank.
“I’ll be back.”
Thursday night with Suzie Vanveecherlidge:
Thursday night I found out where Suzie’s birthmark goes. It was quite a long cab ride, but I made sure that they sent me Aldor. Forty-nine kilometers to a strip club in Hamilton called “The Teaze.” The letter ‘z’ was fluorescent.
Suzie was there, except she didn’t have a shirt on, and she wore a dark brunette wig down to her low back. Her big blotchy birthmark was faded and murky again. Suzie’s been hiding her birthmark so that no one at the “The Teaze” recognizes her, and I guess so that she doesn’t look like defective merchandise. She appears to be something of a celebrity in Hamilton. She had the biggest stage, with optimal lighting and her audience spanned larger than the other topless females’ did.
She was happy. I’ve never seen her so happy. Monday through Wednesday Suzie looks miserable. Thursday she looks hopeful. Fridays she looks euphoric. Thursday night, with a crowd of smirking males surrounding her, I saw a feeling of fulfillment that I’d never seen in a human being before. I felt her satisfaction, up until the point when I ran it over with my four small wheels that she so often likes to mock. Don’t undermine my horsepower.
The point was to remain hidden, disguised, covert, and inconspicuous. I had no intention of revealing myself to any of my subjects, and this time I had gone through the additional effort of wearing a hat, a toque that I had stolen from Eric one time.
I walked in and was going to sit at the bar, a good distance away, but as I was approaching the bar stool, Suzie spotted me. Cover blown. I waved. She looked quite angry, so I left immediately.
This is thrilling.
An interview with Eric Frat:
All I see is a pedestrian.
“Hey man. What’s up?”
“Just wondering what car you drive?”
“Huh? A Honda Civic”
“Oh… Do you like it?”
“Why do you settle for okay?”
“Why don’t you get a better job?”
“I like this job.”
“Well you’re good at it.”
“Is your life insured?”
“Ha. Well, yeah.”
“How do you feel about your boss?”
“You mean our boss? Hans Gerald’s a nice guy.”
“Have you ever been in love?”
“What’s this about, man?”
“I’m conducting a survey. Have you ever been in love and for how long?”
“Hmm. Three times. The first two were in high school. Uh…I don’t know a couple of years. And then there was Liza—two years.”
“So four years total?”
“How long have you been loved?”
“Two years, I guess.”
“Interesting. Do you like your life?”
“Ha. You’re a crazy guy.”
“If you were standing on the freeway, and a bus was rapidly approaching—about to kill you—would you run?”
“Well yeah. Wouldn’t you?”
“What’s your push?”
“Do you want a 1966 Ford Mustang? Are you still in love with someone who doesn’t love you back? Do you want to be famous? Do you want to die young? Do you want to save lives? Want to be a millionaire? You know, life stuff. What pushes you?”
“Wow. I don’t know. That’s a big question.”
“That’s a small answer.”
“Will you let me know when you find out, Eric?”
“Thank you, Eric.”
Friday night with Benjamin Sung:
Benjamin Sung is having sex with the female custodian in the utility closet. Monday through Friday the first three weeks of every month. It seems everyone in this office has some serious promiscuity issues.
Her name is Shelley Fortina, and she must be almost double his age. Further inquiries and investigation have informed me that she is married, without children.
Friday night I followed everyone downstairs around 5:15 p.m., and waited in front of the bus stop. After I saw Hans Gerald leave for the parking garage, I went back up to the fourteenth floor. Benjamin wasn’t at his desk working on graphs on extended office hours. He was in the utility closet on our office floor, having sex during extended office hours.
First I looked in the fax room, then in the meeting rooms, then in the bathroom, then in the staircase, and then I tried to open all of the locked office doors. I went to the utility closet last—the lock doesn’t work, and that’s a well-known fact. I walked in on Benjamin Sung and Shelley Fortina half-naked, mid-thrust, on top of the dingy, plastic sink used to empty buckets of mop water. They stared at me. In my discomfort, I made an abnormal noise, apologized, and shut the door. Benjamin’s expression was one of simultaneous irritation and disinterest; Shelley’s was one of complete desolation. It’s regrettable that I hadn’t interviewed her as well.
What a rush.
Wednesday night without Eric Frat:
I followed Eric home on Wednesday. He’s a slow driver, and seems to coast whenever he can. Aldor almost blew our cover; he honked at Eric who made an abrupt stop at a yellow light. I dropped to the bottom of the cab and feel quite confident I wasn’t spotted this time.
Eric went straight home to his apartment on Illiac West. I’ve been to his apartment once for beers and barbeque, but the barbeque was dry and the beer was that distasteful wheat-based kind. His apartment looked like the interior of his Honda Civic. All in all, it was a depressing experience.
Eric stayed in all Wednesday night and, quite unimpressed with my findings, I told Aldor to let me off there. I felt like taking the bus.
Monday I took an earlier bus to 48 Aiker Street. Around 8:20 a.m., I passed the on-ramp to the 407 West. I thought about everyone I knew running from the bus like they said they would. Then I thought about the faceless, suited figment who ran from death only at the last possible second. I imagined my bus running him over, and I thought about how small and wasted he would feel beneath the weight of a 12-tonne vehicle. It made me squint and squirm uncomfortably.
I arrived to work thirty minutes early, except it wasn’t work anymore. I had spent the whole weekend assessing my findings and evaluating the evidence. I’ve made numbers for everyone. I’ve made percentages for everyone. I’ve figured it all out for them. Their lives in numbers.
I left manila folders on each of their desks, entitled “My Study on Your Life,” specified for each person. I had to break into Hans Gerald’s office to leave his there.
I told Suzie that if she’s only happy for three out of seven days of the week then she’ll spend 57.26 percent of her life being unhappy and 42.74 percent of her life reapplying makeup to her birthmark, which is an ineffective disguise anyway. I told Hans Gerald that if he spends three minutes of every day, Monday through Friday, stalking his ex-wife then he’ll spend 0.15 percent of his life wasting new potential moments in exchange for old, stunted ones. And I told him how important that 0.15 percent could be, when compared to only 0.72 percent. I told Benjamin that if he spends 30 minutes of every day, Monday through Friday, the first three weeks of every month having sex with the custodian, then he’ll spend 1.03 percent of his life ruining Shelly Fortina’s marriage. I told Eric that if he continues to be the most boring person I’ve ever met, then he’ll be 0.00 percent significant when he dies, and that I don’t want to squirm when I think of dead Eric Frat.
Most of the information to my survey questions said “N/A,” so I told them the percentage of questions that they didn’t answer: 34.67 percent for Hans Gerald, 76.81 percent for Suzie, 16.8 percent for Eric, 79.02 percent for Benjamin. So I asked them, what are you so ashamed of?
At 8:53 a.m., I left the office, and got onto the elevator with my belongings: a few office supplies and a therapeutic neck pillow. I got to the first floor and Eric was standing there, waiting to go up. This was highly out of character. Eric is always five minutes late, not early.
He wanted to speak to me. He wanted to tell me that he tried really hard to think of his push, but he couldn’t. He had no idea. I told him that everyone in this office has a secret life except for him. I told him that none of them wanted me to find out what their push is, so I found out myself. I told him that I don’t know what his push is either, and that I don’t know whether I hope he finds out or not.
Eric asked me where I was going. I told him I felt like walking. But before I left, he said,
“Hey, what’s your push?”
I thought that was interesting.