Street level in the financial district it was dark and the streetlights were still on. Overhead the sky was blue and sunlight glinted off the windows of the upper floors.
Seven o’clock in the morning used to mean a seat on the train all the way in. Now it’s standing room only … if you’re lucky. And in the train station, the concourse is packed from six on. By seven thirty the one-block walk to the subway is an achingly slow shuffle. One step, two steps, stop. Step back to let people into the food court. Step forward, reach for a door, push into the surge of bodies. Pass through the smokers’ gauntlet. Walk through the next set of doors, down the cracked tile steps, carefully through the spinning turnstile and then off to the shortest escalator lineup.
At the office by eight, he rarely had time to himself anymore, because the rest of the management team was also coming in early, and like him they weren’t going home any earlier. By eight he was fully engaged and he didn’t stop until after one, when he and a few of the other managers went to a bar for lunch.
Meetings were booked solid through the day and micro-managed down to the scripts. He lectured and commanded his people. Among his peers in meetings, he was a team player. When summoned by the executive, he nodded on cue.
Sometimes by seven, like tonight, but usually before eight, unless it was end of quarter, meetings were wrapping up and cell phones were coming out to make or change appointments. Ritualistically, allowances were made for a round or two of decompression drinking at a bar on the way to the station.
But not tonight. He had an engagement with his wife. Thanks to her family’s endowments over the years, they were members of the exclusive museum society and had been invited to a special preview. Though not the enthusiast his wife was, he was amenable as long as there were no crowds, pushing and shoving, no offensive odours, and absolutely no children.
The preview didn’t start until 8:30, so when he phoned her he suggested they meet at the little Hungarian place around the corner behind the museum. The service there was polite and friendly—quaint—and the schnitzel and beer were good stout fare for a long evening.
Back at the museum in plenty of time, they were greeted by the director and the curator and then mingled with the other guests before proceeding to the exhibit.
The main hall, its ceiling also the roof of the four-story museum, swallowed the elite gathering. In the center was what the curator described as a reconstruction of a royal burial structure, made entirely of stone in the shape of a pyramid with a flat top. Its back half was cross-sectioned to reveal a three-dimensional labyrinth and to reduce its base in proportion to its forty-foot height.
According to the curator, a self-described aficionado and autodidact of the architecture, a pyramid structure of this modest scale would have required a few thousand men working between five and ten years to construct, using the primitive tools of the period. A 14-hour day in temperatures above 40°C with limited fresh water and no shade was typical and that was on top of the daily two-hour ritual trek to the site and back.
The rest of the curator’s remarks were directed to the phenomenal human engineering predating the Mesoamerican pyramids, the extraordinary precision of the construction, the intricate underground network connecting the pyramidal structures on barren plains, and the deceptively simple form that disguised an infinitely complex and elaborate interior. The tour was an hour and a half, and at the conclusion, the consensus was that the exhibition would indeed vindicate the museum’s decision to host this large and costly exhibition.
Afterward, he and his wife joined another couple for drinks and chatted about kids, college, vacation plans, retirement, and markets. The exhibit didn’t come up. He and his wife shared a cab to the train station. He caught the train home and slept through his stop. She took the cab on to the airport for her flight to Beijing.
About the author:
Peter McMillan is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. He has published two anthologies of his reprinted stories: Flash! Fiction and Flash! Fiction 2.