If you’re in the business of counting thoughts, Donovan Springer, on a cloudless night in late April, had two.
First: An imagination unrealized was a deadly weapon indeed. Second: The taste of freedom proved an enticing combination of salty and sweet.
He imagined then how everyday life rarely afforded opportunities for large quantities of freedom to cross one’s lips or settle against one’s tongue. Yet, in all his twenty-six years of opportunity-less existence, this night gave him such a chance to taste. Would a prelude to his luxury be appropriate? A wiser storyteller might start from the beginning …
Donovan Springer’s Once Upon a Time is first set at Kerbing, Keats and Welldon Inc., a mid-sized corporate design firm in downtown Chicago that enlisted him as Assistant Junior Creative Coordinator, Special Assignments, Etc. (“Don’t forget the ‘Etc.’ in your title,” said his manager, Bruce, voice soaked through with condescending pride. “Etcetera could mean anything at all, so that looks good for your future.”)
The unspoken motto at Kerbing, Keats and Welldon seemed to be, “Ignore first, Innovate Later.” A problem with samples for a client? Not a problem for us! Simply forward the complaint-splattered email to another department and continue on with your day.
And so Donovan did, from 8:15 a.m. each morning until the raw winds of Chicago bellowed against a faraway window at night. Everything to Donovan during this Company Period felt empty. And none of it was ever empty enough to reach the point where it must be refilled but empty enough to remain just so, a bleak chasm of humdrum tasks squatting among the colorless status quo.
Until, that is, the Elevator Period arrived, short and sweet as an early spring rainstorm, only there was no rain, there was only that scent. Here’s the whole of it:
Six mirrored elevators – lined up neat in a row – could be taken to arrive at Floor Eighteen and the beige, popcorn ceilinged lobby of Kerbing, Keats and Welldon. The elevators were each slow in coming but the ding ding ding from any one of them meant Donovan’s minutes where no longer his own, now property of Bruce and his managerial devotion to the ambiguous etcetera. On the day the Elevator Period began and ended, Donovan rode the farthest elevator to the right.
Inside, its air was painted with jasmine and cinnamon and sweat, drawing the olfactory outline of a woman just departed from within its elevatorish lair. She must’ve left in a whirr of perfume and hairspray, late for her morning meeting, a quick look to the glossy wall, perhaps wondering if hers was the face of someone who cared.
On the same elevator mirror Donovan saw two familiar brown eyes and gaunt lips and that birthmark with one long hair protruding from its center; what a useless, one-haired dot by his left ear! Donovan and the birthmark weren’t even distinctive enough to be called ugly, they just were.
Before the elevator rumbled to a stop at Floor Eighteen, this thought, runny-egged and barely solidified inside his mind: I’ll leave my life today.
With a wanton push of the lobby button and a slow, seductive slide of the elevator doors, Donovan listened to the ding ding ding as he stepped toward liberation, electronic trumpets playing their song of something new. The Gateway Period had arrived.
Donovan’s next thought: A train ride to nowhere was cheaper than expected and traveled along its tracks with alarmingly confident speed.
His train car guzzled low beneath his feet and Donovan licked at the coffee-flavored perspiration bubbling above his thin upper lip. For hours, his eyes were fixed on the scene outside his window, large slabs of empty Illinois roadways bordered by flat, modest smidgeons of green.
No one who entered the train bothered to sit next to Donovan as the day slipped to night, maybe because his slouched shoulders and crumpled suit spoke of a silent man on a serious journey unknown. When one woman dared plop her shopping-bagged self beside him, Donovan decided it was time to leave.
The place beyond his train, discovered while walking into its strange depths, was a metallic show of full moonlight and lake-lined shore. Where he was, he couldn’t tell, but Donovan stood alone beside a closed gateway – this was his Gateway Period after all, so why not? – made from a series of slim, black bars and an elaborately curled arch that looped between two stone pillars. Just beyond, the water was speckled with starlight and colored in the reflections of a blue-green sky. There was a little sailboat, ready to whisk Donovan off to certain happiness if only he’d open the gateway’s brassy doors …
The night was far too starry and bright, the moon too full and free in the sky, the sweeps of tree branches too perfectly framed around this scene, the lake too perfectly rippled and quiet, the single, unmanned sailboat too perfectly sliding along waters of silver and shine …
Donovan’s final thought: I haven’t found the gateway to freedom but the gateway to my mind.
[This story was inspired by a photo from Tony Bennett, storyteller, blogger and adventurer. You can see more of his spectacular pictures here.]