by Bob Carlton
Institutional tile. Fluorescent lighting. Distant sounds of doors opening and closing. Click of locks. No echo of footsteps.
A woman steps out of a room and into the hallway. She is wearing sunglasses. I find this odd, though no more so than the fact that she immediately enters the door adjacent to the room she has just left, at the same moment that a police officer is coming out of the room she is entering. The fact that they pass one another in such close proximity, yet exchange neither a look nor a greeting limits the possible number of scenarios. They are, perhaps, lovers who do not wish to reveal the true nature of their relationship to anyone in this place. Perhaps they are ex-lovers, no longer on speaking terms, the bitterness of their break-up leaving room for neither open contempt nor useless public recriminations. Perhaps they are rivals, office politics and the complex power plays of worldly ambition allowing for no expression of even the smallest social courtesies.
Most of the floor tiles are off-white, mottled with light gray splotches. There are also some blue tiles, placed in what would appear to be random patterns. It is, of course, entirely possible that their placement is not random at all, but is instead a complex rubric of behavior, a scheme of actions and assignments to guide the various levels of personnel employed here in their daily routines. Responsibility and expectations spelled out in the simple geometry of flooring.
There is little evidence for activity. The small bits of detritus that betray our presence—the dropped gum wrapper, the lost pen cap, the scrap of torn tissue paper—are removed quietly and efficiently by agents unseen before even a hasty examination that could reveal who is here and what they do.
The consequences of my observations, as well as what would have happened had I not been here, are beyond my knowing. It is necessary to understand this, at a visceral level, even though it is possible, in fact quite likely, that no one knew I was even here. The laws of nature think nothing of such qualifications. We may very well call into being the alternate histories we envision, only to have their contradictions and inconsistencies cancel each other out, leaving only what we know we see.