by Thaddeus Rutkowski
In my workplace, I realize I’ve lost my bicycle. I think I’ve parked it on the street, but I can’t remember where on the street. I might have locked it to a pole, the kind that holds a No Parking sign. But on which block? I would have stored the bike close to the office, but there are several heavily trafficked streets around the building. Or I might have brought the bike in through the service entrance (not through the lobby). The service entrance leads to the basement, and from there to the service elevator. But this elevator is usually out of order. I might have brought the bike into the basement and been blocked on my way through the maze of hallways. Then I might have wheeled it back onto the street and left it somewhere. I don’t have time to look for it, because I can’t leave the office. I’ll be at work for several more hours, but the time doesn’t matter. I don’t have to tell anyone where I am. Those who know me know where I am.
I’m thinking maybe I didn’t ride my bicycle to work; maybe I took the subway. Taking the subway isn’t a relaxing way to travel these days. When you get on the train, you need to look for who else is in the car. You don’t want to sit too close to anyone, even if the person is following health-safety rules. But I can’t remember taking the subway, or which train I took to which station. I don’t think a fare has been taken from my transit card, but there is no way to check unless I go to a station and put the card through an automated reader.
I look into a conference room that resembles a classroom. I see I am credited on a blackboard for contributing to a magazine article—my name is written on the board in chalk—but I’m sure I made no contribution to the article. The piece contains an analysis of various companies’ annual reports. I don’t see how I could have contributed to an article that focuses on a business’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. But I might have read someone else’s work on the subject—that is what I usually do.
I leave the office late at night. Outside, I don’t look for my bicycle. Instead, I look for a place, a sort of house that has an address farther along the street. But of course no place like this would be open these days, when everything is shut. And anyway, why would I need a real place when everything is virtual? Along the street, I see signs with words in Chinese characters, buildings with decorative lintels, windows that display red-paper lanterns, shops selling play swords with tassels. Soon, I come to the Chinatown supermarket, and I think I might find something inside, some kind of unusual food. The market is open, and I enter without delay. I don’t find what I’m looking for, but I see a section of live seafood. I watch as a customer points to a tank and an attendant takes a fish from the water with a small net. The attendant puts the fish on a plastic tray and slides the tray along the row to the next man. The fish, probably a sea bass, flops on the tray. The fish’s next stop will be the sink.
I walk outside and spot my bicycle—it is where I left it, at a horseshoe-shaped bike anchor. I can see the bike from a distance because it has fluorescent-green handlebars and a matching fork. I check to see that both tires have air, unlock the flimsy chain, and shove off. There is little traffic on the streets. I come to an intersection, and a driver honks at me. I look into his window and see him pointing to the right. I make a gesture that I am going to the left. We flail our arms as we wait for the other to move. The driver says something I cannot hear and in frustration speeds around me. I’m not concerned. I am only a few short blocks from home. My tires have air, and if one goes flat I can walk the rest of the way.
Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of seven books, most recently Tricks of Light, a poetry collection. His novel Haywire won the Asian American Writers Workshop’s members’ choice award, and his book Guess and Check won an Electronic Literature award for multicultural fiction. He teaches at Medgar Evers College and received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. www.thaddeusrutkowski.com.