The Life of Death
It’s difficult being at the top. No one ever meets expectations, always falling short in their infinite quest to impress me. It made me think that establishing my new position was a mistake. If I had stayed where I was, I’d at least have something to work for, or someone to impress. Instead, I was stuck here reclining in my leather chair, falsifying interest in another design plan from one of my incompetent sheep.
“Here is where we’ll place the staircase. It’ll spiral to the above floor giving an amazingly open concept for the guests to enjoy. It’ll be the most luxurious hotel in the northern part of the city! Do you approve Mr. Dolore?” Shelly said, her face bright with excitement.
She’d started off a capable sheep, pitching new ideas left and right. However, in the last few months none of her ideas had the ability to truly impress me. I had high standards, and those that didn’t even come remotely close to them were shown the door.
“What’s stopping it from being the best hotel in Arcaya?” I said, my teeth clenching the cigarette bud to prevent it from falling on the carpet.
“Well, nothing can really beat the Artisans Hotel, can it? I mean you designed that one yourself, sir.” Shelly tilted her head to one side in confusion. Her big round eyes blinked twice as she looked on perplexed.
“So, you are content staying where you are? Surely you have to dream of being number one?”
“Well, that’s impossible, sir. I mean, you are Logan Dolore, top designer in the city. You’ve had your hand in practically everything built in Arcaya for the past three years.” She looked at me expectantly, as though I was supposed to agree with her. I didn’t.
“You have until tomorrow to bring me a design that can, at the very least, make me raise an eyebrow. Do that and you can stay working here. If you don’t, you can pack up your desk and, well...you know the way out.”
Shelly’s cheeks turned dark red, her legs scurrying at breathtaking speed out of my office. If only she could impress me as much as her terrified retreat did, she wouldn’t be in such a predicament. I fully expected to have an empty desk in the bullpen to fill in the morning.
I watched the second hand of the clock tick by. That little red line could only hold my attention from the three to the nine before I grew antsy. I spun in my chair, kicking off the ground until I could look out the window.
Top floor of Lerna Tower had the best view in the city, but I was uninspired. Everything below me looked so bleak and lifeless. The color of the world seemed gray as I puffed a cloud of smoke from my nostrils. This was my greatest achievement, reaching the very top. There’s unfortunately nowhere else left to go once your head is pressed against the ceiling, unable to breach through to the heavens.
Everyone said that ‘the sky’s the limit’ without anyone saying how you were supposed to know you reached that point. If I was without a higher goal to reach, then did that mean I was done? Sometimes it felt like I had reached the height of my life and the only place left to go was down.
There was a sharp pain on the right side of my chest as I noticed the end of my cigarette burning through my shirt. I’d lost focus and forgot to ash the damn thing. This made the second shirt this week to suffer the consequences of my wandering mind.
After wiping away the burning ash I gathered my blazer and left the office, my day of working over. It was a long elevator ride to the ground floor. People came and went about every four floors, making it feel like an eternal cycle. It would last until I dropped all one hundred and thirteen floors.
It was around the fifty-six floor that a woman caught my eye. She had aqua eyes that reminded me of the ocean water I used to see every summer back home. It was a magnificent color; one I didn’t see enough in this landlocked city. Her raven-colored hair fell past the midpoint of her back, gently brushing against her suit as she squeezed in front of me.
She was too close for comfort. I tried desperately to back up, but was met only with the cool, wood lining of the elevator. It was too cramped to move in any direction, my nose starting to twitch as a stray strand of her hair hung dangerously close to my nostril. With delicate timing I removed the hair, using two fingers like tweezers removing a splinter.
She turned her face to the side and flashed me a confident smile when she saw me looking at her. I looked away instantly, her eyes making me feel something I hadn’t in a long time. If I recall, the last time I felt this way was back in college when one of my professors looked at my designs and threw them in the trash. Years had passed since then. It took me a moment to pinpoint the sensation, but I settled on it before long. I was intimidated by just a glance from this woman.
I awaited the final ding from the elevator doors, hoping it’d arrive before this woman looked at me a second time. It came and I pushed past her before she could walk out. If she went the same way and I was forced to walk behind her, I’d fail to shake the feeling she inflicted me with.
I kept my head down as I walked, briskly exiting the tower. It was getting late, and the streets were packed with everyone racing to see who could get home the soonest. People whizzed by like bullets with zero regard for who they may strike. I weaved the best I could, but was still involved in a couple collisions as I tried to reach the edge of the sidewalk. It was usually a quick trek home from the office, my studio only a few blocks across the street. Maneuvering through the bodies was what made reaching the crosswalk a difficult affair.
I wedged through the last barrier of people, erupting on the other side. The tip of my shoe collided with someone’s heel, knocking me off balance. My face was on course to hit the curb, my arms too slow to brace my fall. Right before impact I felt my momentum stop, the fabric of my suit hugging my shoulders tightly.
“Careful there, that fall would’ve ruined your face or worse if you stumbled into the street.”
My savior gripped the back of my suit, strong enough to hold me off the ground with just one arm. Her smile was just as confident as it was in the elevator that I couldn’t find my voice to reply. She helped me resituate to my feet, padding out the wrinkles she left in my clothes. Her touch was forceful, each pat knocking the air out of my lungs.
“T-Thank y-you” I said through the coughing caused by her strikes.
“Glad to. It’d be a shame if your face became disfigured. I’ve seen you around the tower from time to time, you eat at the Java Junction most days, right?” She said, pointing a bright red nail at me.
“Yeah...I like their veggie melt. Wait, nevermind that, who are you?”
“I’m Solas. I work for Mosaic Studios on the hundred and first floor. I’m more interested in who you are though.”
“I’m Logan, I work on the top floor.” I said, taking a quick look at the tower’s peak behind Solas.
“Did you say the top floor? You’re the Logan Dolore? Oh wow, it’s an honor! I painted the mural at the park in Roku District you designed. It’s really starting to liven up that part of the city!” Solas said, her excitement eating away at her initial demeanor.
“That would be me.” I let the tension ease off my shoulders, her presence slowly becoming less intimidating. She beamed with happiness, as she inspected me from head to toe, shaking her head in approval at the parts she seemed to like.
“Let me take you out! I would love to discuss any availability you have for artistic touches in your building designs. To be honest, I was lucky to get such a nice office space in the tower considering I’m just starting up my studio. I can take you to Animus, there’s a lot of beauty there that I think you’ll love to see for inspiration!” She spoke so quickly I had to force my brain to keep up. I didn’t have a second to even reply before she wrapped her arm with mine and directed me across the street. It was like being hauled by a truck, Solas barreling through people like they were traffic cones.
“Hold up, slow down!” She did the opposite, increasing her pace towards the train station.
“We have to hurry if we want to make the train! The one for Animus doesn’t come often.” I was lugged to the group of benches under the overhangs, providing little shade from the afternoon sun.
An orange hue settled over the station, the incoming train cutting through the colors like a brush dipped in white. The shriek of the brakes reminded me of the owl screeches outside of my window that disturbed my sleep every night. After it came to a full stop and the doors opened I was brought aboard, Solas leading the way. It was difficult to pin down why I felt so willing to follow her. Discussing her opportunities to produce art for my structures was hardly important, the reason for going along with her to the countryside having to be something else entirely.
“Relax and enjoy the ride. You look like you’ve never taken the train before.” Solas said, laughing at my lack of confidence as she directed me to sit beside her.
“The train’s still pretty new and I don’t usually have a reason to leave the city. So, no, I’m not particularly used to trains.”
“Just look out the window and watch the trees go by. The sunset always blurs nicely with the green and it’s a wonderful view.” Solas’s cheek was bathed in the orange glow of the sun coming through the window. It left her skin looking more bronze than before, the shade melding with her dark hair.
She displayed such content as we flew through the trees that I found myself joining her to look at the scenery. It was indeed beautiful, the world blending into a canvas where I couldn’t tell if the trees or the sunset was the centerpiece. They both battled for dominance within the painting zooming by in our window.
“Just wait till you see the town. That’s the true masterpiece.” It was only a whisper, but still took my attention away from the view. I was able to catch a glimpse of her smile before she let out a massive yawn, revealing her canines.
We didn’t speak much on the train ride, Solas staying focused on the outside. Her eyes sparkled with intense entrancement when the sun fell behind the trees, plunging the world into night. She repeatedly craned her neck in a variety of awkward angles to gain a good view of the stars above us. From the amount of frustrated huffing emanating from her lips I’m certain she never succeeded.
I felt the train slow, the familiar sound of the brakes alerting us of our arrival in Animus. Solas ejected from her seat as soon as we felt the final jolt of the train reaching a full stop. She pulled me with her, my body feeling like an accessory for her to drag along on her adventure. She was so carefree that I felt light when accompanying her, the unforeseen pressure always weighing on my shoulders finally discarded.
“Where are you taking me?” I said while struggling to keep my feet from tripping over themselves. Her pace was swift as I was led through the narrow streets, the visibility limited with few lamp posts to light the way.
“There’s the best kebab stand near here, but they’ll be closing soon if we don’t hurry! Right by there is a great view of the sky. Trust me you won’t be disappointed.” Solas didn’t look in my direction once while talking, her eyes fixed on the path ahead.
The smell of salty meat drew near, my mouth watering the closer we got. The rumble from my stomach reminded me that I’d worked through lunch...again. It was a habit I really needed to break, my body punishing me every night by gorging on whatever I could find in my fridge.
“Here, take this and pay the man already.” Solas handed me a steak kebab, the meat perfectly charred in all the right ways.
“This was your idea, I thought you were buying.” Despite my response, I was already pulling out a crisp bill from my wallet.
“You’re the rich one here. It’s only fitting you pay and let me save what I have for my studio.” She said while viciously biting into her food. Her teeth sank in like knives, plucking each piece of meat off the stick in a messy fashion.
“Enjoying yourself?” I said, raising an eyebrow in surprise at her ability to act so relaxed around me. We’d only just met and here she was with steak juice dripping off her chin.
She didn’t respond with words, but the violent shaking of her head was all that was needed to confirm my question. She had succumbed to the food, my presence taking a backseat. It was a first. People were normally at full attention when near me.
“So, where’s this place you wanted to take me?” I asked after swallowing my last piece of meat. It took her a moment to respond, her mind still fully engrossed in the food.
“It’s over that way,” she said pointing to the hills away from town, “at the top of the hill is a wonderful place.” She set out, not yanking me along this time. I was being given a choice for the ending of the adventure, the decision to continue solely up to me.
I didn’t look back, following Solas out of Animus. It was difficult to see the further we went, the glow of the stars and dim light of the crescent moon all we had. The tree roots were the most difficult to navigate, but as we came to the hill, the terrain smoothed out.
“Stand here and look up.” Solas said, directing me to the crest.
I obeyed her orders, staring at the cosmos above. To say my jaw dropped is an understatement. Never could a view quite like this be available in Arcaya, the lights of the city always polluting the night. In this moment everything disappeared. I wasn’t Logan Dolore, just a man staring at the stars.
“Glad you came?” Solas whispered. She stood close, our shoulders only a few centimeters apart.
“I am.” I didn’t look away from the sky, my eyes yet to fully absorb the beauty. It was art produced by the galaxy and it would be impossible to take in every detail, but I was most certainly going to try.
Eventually, we settled on the ground, sitting back-to-back. Occasionally one of us would point out a particularly beautiful constellation or the wonderment the splashes of stardust held in each of our halves of the sky.
I’m not sure how long we sat there. I couldn’t tell how late it was, but I felt no inclination to return home. Solas stirred behind me, standing back up. The light was pale as it cast her in a soft glow, seemingly reflecting off her hair. It was enough to distract me from the stars.
“Mind walking me home?” I felt my chest fall, my desire to stay put shattered. She noticed my sadness, bearing a large smile to cheer me up. “We’ll come back again. Promise.” She extended her hand and helped me to my feet. After a quick brushing to free my pants from the thin layer of dirt encasing them, I accompanied Solas back.
“It’s at the edge of town, so it’s not far.” She wasn’t lying, stopping at her house sooner than I would’ve liked. A faint yellow light hung above the bright red door. It was a simple place, painted a pale blue that only seemed to add to its charm. I went to walk her to the door, but she grabbed the sleeve of my suit.
“Let’s stay out here, I don’t want to disturb them.” She gestured to the window. A woman, no more than a few years older than us was busy corralling two seemingly unruly children at the dinner table.
“Is that your family?” The confusion must have been evident in my voice for she let out a soft chuckle of amusement.
“They used to be. My daughter, Evelyn, was never great with children, so I’m surprised she ended up having kids. I'm glad she did, watching those two grow up has been a delight. The boy is eight now, and the girl, well, she’s going to be special. She’s only five, but she still manages to impress me. My daughter named her Luna, and though she’d never admit it, I know it was her way of honoring me. Luna and Linnaeus Angelo...beautiful names, don’t you agree?” She said all this while continuing to peer through the window. There was no way any of this was true. Solas looked younger than the woman inside, it’d be impossible for that to be her daughter.
“I guess that came off confusing. I would’ve turned fifty-five this year, but I look good considering how long I’ve been around, don't I?” She let out a nervous laugh before her tone saddened. “Go home Logan, hopefully I’ll see you at the tower tomorrow. I really did enjoy our night.”
She brushed past me, waltzing down the street until she disappeared into the darkness. I couldn’t erase her from my mind, our night was all I could focus on. Her departure left me empty, like my chest had been carved out and replaced with icicles. It left me numb from the inside out, as one question kept assaulting my thoughts.Just who is she?