The phone rang with the sound of a police car bringing attention to itself. It always rang and today it seemed the ringing was constant. It hadn't stopped all morning and Christopher was already drained of strength and emotion.
Christopher West worked as a client service representative for a large company, and on days like this, he wished for another province-wide power failure or ice storm. Something to make the phones and persistent complaints from clients stop. Christopher had to endure it all while remaining pleasant, calm and polite. It was unbearable at the best of times, but today, it just seemed to be even more dreadful.
Although he didn't admit it out loud, his personal life suffered because of the stresses at work. Going home on days like this was not much fun as he brought home a piece of the fruitless frustration he felt at work. He looked at the calendar, it was February 29 and a Tuesday morning. 'Ah well.' He said to himself, his voice low enough that no one else would overhear. He then checked his watch and compared the time with that of his computer screen. The digital clock showed seven minutes past eleven in the morning. Christopher then stood, stretched his hands and neck, and turned around glancing over his cubical wall to see out the long rectangular window his co-worker had near her desk.
Lucky for her, he thought, disappointed he didn't have a window. Although he couldn't open it, it was still natural light. Mind you, after he saw the snow falling, and the wind whipping up gusts of already settled powder off the lower roof line, he was thankful that he didn't have a window seat and that the windows couldn't open. Snow fell in large clumps as the wind drove it downward, almost blinding anyone outside with its force. Christopher couldn't even see across to the next building.
'I have to get out of this place - a vacation in a warm and sunny place. With no phone or bitchy people complaining about some crap.' He sat and leaned back in this chair, it creaked as he did.
He had just pressed the red hang-up key on his phone after telling a client to wait for the mail before calling to say that the documents promised didn't arrive.
How could it have arrived - you old fart, it wasn't sent out yet. He fantasized about what he wanted to say to the client, although he knew deep down that he couldn't bring himself to actually say it.
His thoughts drifted back to his last vacation as he leaned even further back, crossing his arms, embracing himself with a warm and comforting feeling of bliss and relief from the reality that was his life. His last real vacation was three years ago with his wife. The kids were at his brother-in-laws for the week and it was truly a week of relaxation. Christopher and his wife drove down to Sandbanks and rented a room at a bed and breakfast. They did nothing constructive for the whole week, choosing to sun and swim, all the while resting not only body, but mind.
He closed his eyes and squeezed them tight as he tried to shut out the world. It didn't work as other phones rang and client service staff answered in that oh so pleasant voice. It was enough to make Joel want to bring up his hasty breakfast of an egg on toast with ham.
Even my breakfasts are boring he thought.
He opened his eyes in time to see a picture on his computer screensaver. It was something that he downloaded, an image that gave him some hope for summer and the end of the snow and cold and slush. It was a warm and inviting picture of several thatched huts, large and round sitting on thick bamboo posts hammered into the sandy bottom of the Pacific Ocean. They had a long walking jetty leading out to and passing each hut with a short walkway. The water was crystal clear and even on the computer screen looked warm. It was clear enough to see the two or three meters to the bottom where the sand was a creamy white and small tropical fish swam amongst outcrops of coral.
Christopher reached out and touched the screen, almost feeling the warm breeze he imagined blow on his fingers. The island oasis beckoned and he dreamed of being in that picture.
Oh to be there right now, he thought with wild abandonment as he shut out his work by closing his eyes. His co-workers, the phones, the angry and abusive clients disappeared and was replaced by more - tranquil images, smells and sounds.
The sound of the waves and tropical birds singing in the wind and riding magical and invisible waves in the sky, the breeze blowing gently, swaying the palm leaves and enticing the waves to lap gently against the white sand shores and the stilts of the huts, it was a tropical feast and it was all for him.
'Christopher? Christo ! You in there or what?'
'What? Oh, sorry, I must have been thinking.' He tried to cover up his drifting off and opened his eyes.
Sandra Oxford, one of his co-workers from the other team, interrupted him. 'What's up?' he asked quickly, hoping he didn't sound upset for being disturbed.
'My PC just went down and I need to send an email to systems. Can I get you to email them for me?' Sandra asked, her tone was soft and almost seductive as she smiled, daring him to say 'no, go away and bug someone else'.
'Sure, no problem.' He answered, almost stammering as he smiled back.
She thanked him and turned to leave, but not before looking back over her shoulder at a confused looking Christopher .
There was concern in that second glance, he hadn't realized Sandra was trying to get his attention for two minutes before he snapped back to reality. This wasn't the first time she'd seen him wig-out. At least that's what everyone in the office was calling it when Joel went on one of his little daydream trips.
The remainder of the day was uneventful and Joel went home as usual in a bland, unfulfilled mood.
The next day Christopher was one of the first people to arrive at the office and it hadn't started well. Stepping off the bus into ankle deep slush was the first of several incidents that set the tone for the day. As he was about to enter the building, a van drove through a large slush puddle and promptly splashed Christopher from his waist down. The cold, wet and salty liquid coated his dress pants and coat. As he dealt with that insult, and as he searched for his pass, a flash of insight and recollection crossed his mind as he saw the pass he was seeking sitting on the hall table as he left the house.
"Just freaking marvelous." He said to himself in resigned disgust as he tried to brush off the clumps of slush and snow.
Christopher did count himself lucky when he ran into another early arrival.
"Hey Christo, I didn't expect to see you this early," said Sara Armstrong, one of the local program managers.
"I'm making up some time from last week." replied Christopher in a low but friendly voice.
Sara looked at the wet pants but didn't say anything as she swiped her access card and pressed the elevator button. No more was said on the ride up, all the while Christopher watched the floor indicators changing, looking intently in blank, resolute silence.
When he arrived at his desk, he tossed his lunch bag under it and plopped himself in his chair with a grand sigh. The open concept floor was empty at this time of day except for three other workers, but they were at the other end of the floor. He reached over, silently moaning, and switched on his computer.
There was that image on his screen, tranquil, clear, clean and peaceful, the tropical oasis that was his sanctuary.
It didn't take long for him to feel the breeze, and hear the gentle ocean waves. It happened so fast it caught Christopher off guard. As he stepped back he felt something different - sand, it was sand at his feet. He couldn't explain what happened, what was happening, but the smell of the tropics and salt air continued to entice him to explore theses new feelings and senses for just a bit longer.
He turned around taking in the sites, a rich, green jungle with thatched palm huts lining the edge stood only meters from him. He could see off in the distance walking paths threading into the jungle. He bent and picked up a hand full of sand, letting it flow through his fingers, slowly at first then faster. It was warm to the touch and soft at the same time. The sun was high in the clear blue sky, with only wisps of white clouds to add to the beauty and majesty of the scene.
He blinked several times, thinking that this was too good to be true. He was after all, in his office - how could this be his paradise? It was a question that he couldn't answer.
He walked slowly toward the water, it was clear and alluring. He increased his pace and as he approached, he realized dreams do come true, that there must be a god or gods to grant him this wish. Stopping at the edge of the water, he removed his socks and shoes, he didn't want to get them wet, after all. He placed his socks neatly inside each shoe and waded into the surf. As his feet touched the water, he felt all warm and fuzzy inside, it was almost as good as sex he thought. Now he noticed his pants were getting soaked.
Looking around quickly, he saw no one, he was alone. 'So why not take it all off?' he asked himself aloud. Hearing no dissenting argument, he stripped down to this shorts, throwing caution to the wind as he whipped off his jacket, shirt and pants, he tossed them on the sandy beach, landing just beside his shoes.
Christopher ran into the warm water, crashing against a wave coming onto the beach. He screamed in joy and delight at the feeling. He looked up and waved at the birds flying overhead, cawing out to him as if to say welcome home Christopher. He dived under the next wave tasting the salt and feeling the sand and water wash over his body. It gave him goose pimples to think that this was all for him.
As he swam and dived, a feeling of dread suddenly crept into his mind, he felt that he was being watched. He stood quickly, shaking off the water from his hair and wiping around his eyes as he scanned the horizon. He didn't see any boats in the water or people on the beach, and the thatched huts on the tree line were still empty.
'Just my over active imagination.' he said to himself as the feeling of impending doom drifted away.
He smiled content in his feeling of tranquility. He let himself fall backward into the next wave and might felt good. It was like being embraced by a long lost lover that only wants to hold you tight.
After swimming around a bit longer, he walked back toward the shore and when he reached the drier sand, he fell to his knees and rolled over onto this back. The sun, still high in the sky, felt welcoming as it baked the beach. It was ambrosia to his skin as rays of light and heat danced off the drops of water that loitered on his body from the swim.
I could get used to this he thought lightheartedly.
Nothing else mattered to him now and soon the life he had at the office was just a nightmare and a lie. This was reality, a reality that was as real as the sand he was lying on. He rejoiced in the fact that he was awake now, forever rid of that life that never happened and that the ringing of the phones and complaining clients would never again intrude into his truth.
As he closed his eyes again, he could hear the distant rustling of tree leaves as the warm breeze played with the birds above. He could also hear something else in the distance but he paid it no mind. He was starting to drift off and anything else right now was inconsequential. The distant noise persisted however and with his eyes still shut tight, he began to think that he was imaging it.
'Whatever it is, it can wait.' he said and turned to his side, his head resting on his hands as he drew his knees up to get comfortable.
He thought after a while, this sand is not the easiest thing to sleep on he mused, but it'll do. I do hope that police car drives by soon and shuts off that dam siren. That feeling of dread began to creep back into his mind as he tried to shut out the sound of the police car; it was like the sound of phones in his nightmare. All at once his mind crashed, his thoughts of bliss and serene calm were replaced with fear and dread. He heard sounds, strange but familiar sounds. These were sounds that could not have come from his paradise, his beach.
People talking in hush, mute conversations all around him began to invade is consciousness even as he tried desperately to keep them out. He heard his name whispered several times but dared not open his eyes for fear of evoking the nightmare again. He was finally at peace, he was alone with his reality. What did he do to bring back the bad place he wished so much to leave? Then a touch, a caress that was light and almost pleasing as it brushed across his brow as someone said his name, louder this time, asking him if he was alright.
Although he dared not, he had to see for himself. He opened his eyes slowly at first. Everything was a blur but it came into focus quickly enough as he saw people he recognized from his nightmare stand all around him. The sand he went to sleep on was replaced by a rough, smelly carpet and the sun was exchanged for dingy fluorescent lighting.
As he focused further, he noticed that there was a chill in the air. Christopher looked down and realized his clothes in a pile by his shoes.
He was back and he wanted to die as he screamed, 'Make it stop! Make them go away!'