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Locking Up





Locking Up

  

   It’s almost 4:55. Soon I’ll rise from my desk. Soon I’ll take an elevator up to the ninth floor to lock the stairwell door that leads both down to the eighth floor and up onto the small ninth floor where the janitorial staff is located and their equipment is stored, and then onto the roof through a last door up a small stairwell on the far wall.

     My door--the fire door I am required to lock--is heavy metal painted gray. It has a small window eye level that contains wires diagonal in a crisscross pattern.

      Over the fifty years this state office building has been here, workers have occasionally used the door to travel down from the ninth floor to the eighth, or down to the seventh, or even further. The building’s two elevators are old and slow; you can even tell where elevator operators used to sit and operate.

    I love how the gray paint on my door has gotten worn away to silver in places, one near the handle, another shoulder height. It makes my door more human, blessed as it has been by so many hands and shoulders.

     Why do I have this concern for this particular door? Well, if you were asked five days a week to go up seven flights to lock a door, five minutes before getting off work, you might also become attached. I do no check of the stairwell doors on the other floors, from the first to the eighth. No one else in the whole building is required to lock stairwell doors.

      The outside doors to the building are locked every night at eight. The elevators are shut down. Is my door locked perhaps to prevent a sniper from getting on the flat roof? The building does have a view of the Texas governor's mansion and grounds.

     I've been to the few rooms on the small ninth floor often, as my work at times requires. The only means to the roof is through this other door up a small flight of stairs across from my ninth-floor door. That roof door, I have discovered, is never locked. The maintenance people are careless.

    I have pointed out to the higher ups through memos that the roof door is always unlocked. My words have gotten only standard, evasive replies.

     I got the door closing assignment six months ago. It was added to my job description after my 2013-year end review. I did all the paperwork for the review during the time of my divorce, and must admit that during that stressful time I became somewhat lax in appearance. My wife, Jadene, would be out in the Austin rock and roll clubs most nights and usually did not come home. My guess is she was making it with the punk musicians she talked to after the gigs. She loved punk. Meanwhile, I took care of our two children Sarah and Gary.

      I fell in love with Jadene at college at the University of Iowa and we married shortly before graduation. I asked her then what she wished to do with her life. Jadene said she wanted to be a stay at home housewife like her mother and raise kids.

     “Don’t you think you’ll get bored?” I said. “Don’t you want to play music in a local band for fun at least?”

     “Not really. Kids take a lot of attention to raise right. At home I will get to run the show. I can create an amazing world for them.”

 

      Every employee of the state must do an end of the year review. Every employee at the state has a job description on which to base the review. My own description, as a technical writer, takes up a page in a large ring notebook full of job descriptions that the head of my unit keeps in her office. “Come by and look any time,” she tells us.

     Job descriptions tell you what you’re required to do. They show you the description when you’re applying for work and after you get the job. I am to correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. I am to rewrite awkward and unclear sentences. I am to design collaboratively documents with graphs and illustrations, using s software program, so the document can be sent digitally to the printer. Most of what our unit works on are the bills passed by the Texas House of Representatives during session. Laws and laws and laws are passed.

  Writing is my work, plus closing the door on the ninth floor at 5:00 PM, as my job description now says. I am instructed to leave my desk on the second floor at 4:55 and lock the door at 5:00. I thought once, since my supervisor is also now divorced, she had set this up so we could get better acquainted. Who has not dreamed of passionate encounters on a forgotten and half-lit stairwell? I bought myself some weights and started working out to look better if she happened to want to meet. Ah, but she has never been anywhere near the door when I went to lock it.

    Almost every day, before I go up to the ninth floor at 4:55, my phone rings. Always it is someone from another cubicle on my floor, one of my coworkers wanting to have a chat about a document we are collaborating on. I can't say I am going up to the ninth floor to lock a door, so I say, "Oh, I’m needed before we close. It's urgent.” I give the impression I’m a conscientious.

     Am I supposed to race up seven flights of stairs, risking a heart attack? I must do the climb because the elevators are slow and will stop at many floors. Certainly, they don’t care if the door doesn’t get locked until 5:10, or do they? Maybe that’s why they have a security camera mounted on the wall by the ceiling pointed at the door.

     At times I think higher ups looked over the job description and couldn't find a reason to fire me based on the description, so they decided to get me with the door. But why? I am never late for work. I’m rarely sick. I’m told my work is excellent. After the divorce, I died my hair blue for a few months. I was going out to the Austin clubs myself to meet someone new on nights I could find a babysitter. Women dye their hair all kinds of colors. What’s wrong with a man doing it?

      Ah my door up there, it calls me now and puts me into a kind of rapture. I will rise and go now. The race up the stairs strengthens my heart. At times I will lock my door from the ninth-floor side and then go up the small flight of stairs to the roof door and out onto the flat asphalt covered roof.

     From there I will look out down at the toy cars and the ant people scrambling around like lost sentences in a bad document. I will look up at the sky and wonder at the meaning of my life.

      Maybe they think one day I’m going to jump off the roof. I will not deny I have had the urge, a somewhat powerful urge, but I don’t wish to give my colleagues or boss the satisfaction. No, I will be a loyal scout and lock my door as told, and I will get my two kids raised. This job provides middling pay but good health benefits and retirement.

     The door is locked, so now I am headed for home. After feeding Sarah and Gary dinner that they will complain about, after some TV or video games and putting them to bed, I will drink a bottle of wine. I may even drink two. Riesling is a bit sweet, but good for the price. I will get out my old guitar, or plink at the piano, to work on a few songs I’ve written. Jadene and I, we were music majors in college. We loved making music. She played the saxophone of all instruments; my main instrument was piano. We felt were not good enough to be professionals, to be in a band or do side work in Nashville or Los Angeles.

    I don’t understand the why of the locking of the door. I don’t understand the why of Jadene leaving. Why didn’t she say something? Maybe it’s because we are Midwesterners and from the same part of the country. We did not think many words were necessary because we were so alike and besides, our music did the talking.

    Every day I have a different explanation for where I am in my life. I imagine Jadene wasted a lot of the time now, doing a lot of drugs. A mutual friend said she lives in the back of a van with the lead singer of the band Poison Lead.

     My wine, and my sleeping pill -- they are my friends now. They get me to sleep and get me through.

 
Chuck Taylor

 

Chuck Taylor was published two books of short stories. "Lights of the City: Stories from Austin," and "It all Flows Away."  In his spare time he likes to canoe the rivers and streams of hill country Texas.

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