The Hand-Off (Part V)

January 30, 2009

Over breakfast, Stephen strained himself trying to recall the events of the previous night. Although it was hard to remember exactly what had happened, the fact that something really had happened was clearly set in his mind. It wasn’t a dream. He just knew. Plus, how else would he explain the extra set of tracks leading up to his door. Also, if it had occurred to him that he was actually eating breakfast, which he was never in the habit of doing previously, he would have known beyond all doubt. But the change that had taken place in him last night was too deep and too pervasive for him to notice.

Stephen was accustomed to laying around watching TV on Sundays, but today he knew he had to get out and take care of something. The fact that he didn’t know exactly what it was he had to do, or where he had to go, didn’t really bother him. After shaving and taking a shower, Stephen dressed and got ready to go out, but he first thought: “No, I really need to clean this place up a little first.”

While Stephen furiously cleaned his apartment, a man walked resolutely out of a narrow alleyway with a small brown package in his hands. It looked much like a gift wrapped in parcel paper. It even had a string tied around it and a note fixed to the top. The man’s collar was turned up to hide his neck, and the gray fedora that crowned his head tilted down in the front to obscure his face, if he had one.

After two hours, his apartment was almost spotless. Stephen proved to be a surprisingly fast cleaner, considering how out of practice he was. His mindless determination fueled him. He was now ready to face the task at hand. He put on his heavy winter coat, stepped outside and locked the door. Then he began to forge a new set of tracks in the snow, this time heading perpendicular to the other two sets. He was on his way to the office, or toward the office I should say. He wouldn’t make it that far, at least not today anyway.

Stephen entered the subway station located several blocks north of his apartment, just as if he were heading to work. And, just as if he were heading to work, he boarded the Blue Line with his freshly swiped ticket in his hand. Again, just as usual, he sat down in the next to last row in his car. There were two details, however, that were out of the ordinary this morning. The first was how few people there were on the car, but then again, it was a Sunday, not a weekday. The second, and more importantly, the significant discrepancy between this subway ride and any other trip to work, was that Stephen sat down on the left side of the car, not the right. And next to him in the seat was a brown package wrapped in parcel paper. It had a string tied around it and a note attached to the top. Stephen flipped open the card out of impulse, though he didn’t need to read the five words written upon it in scratchy handwriting. He already knew what it said: “Just wait. You will know.”

-James, the younger brother