Things began to fall apart: sudden, unforeseen disintegrations that were frankly alarming. It began on the top, that's to say the third floor, which is where I have my office.
The first thing that went was my desk. I'd got up moments earlier to go to the water cooler—I dread to think what might have happened otherwise. I turned around, plastic cup of water in hand, and as I did so the desk simply fell to pieces. My desktop computer came crashing down, too, of course. It came to rest, lopsided but intact, on the piled-up bits of desk.
Next to go, not a minute later, was the second-floor bathroom. Drawn by a fearful Ker-rash, we found it all asunder: jumbled fragments of glass, tile, chrome and porcelain. And before long it was the stairs, one flight after another folding up like a señorita's fan. Mercifully, we were all down in the parlour by then, wondering whom to call and could this be some type of earthquake.
It was Dean Nazario who got us out of the building. He's always had good instincts. Maybe he'd seen something like this in Vietnam? No sooner were we outside than, with a rumble like bowling balls, the whole building collapsed. Three stories levelled quick as you could sneeze.
We spent the rest of the day in group counselling: all 11 of us crowded into a conference room. There, Kate Cahill, a colleague I've always admired without really knowing—her office was, that's to say had been, in the basement—articulated a fear that, I think, several of us shared. If things could fall apart like that, why not people? Wasn't a person more fragile than a sink or staircase? The stresses and strains that hourly assail us, stretching us, mind and body, this way and that! What was to stop any one of us falling to pieces at any moment? 'Or relationships,' chipped in Jackie, our administrative assistant, who's been going through a divorce, but the counsellor cut her short. Wasn't it a blessing that we'd all got out unscathed?
The sun was going down as I headed for the parking lot. It had occurred to me to take a roundabout route, the risk of further trauma, but there again I was curious. And, well, what do you know? An entire new building had risen from the rubble! That's to say it was very like our old building and yet subtly altered. More windows for one thing. The paint a somewhat bluer shade of grey. And that bench on the front porch had acquired a nice set of cushions.
Of course I was taken aback, but once more curiosity got the better. It occurred to me that I might venture inside; the place seemed perfectly solid. Having cast hasty glances to ensure I was unobserved, I eased open the front door. By the light of evening, the parlour was somehow cosier. The stairs seemed to have grown a little steeper, the ceilings a few inches higher. The bathroom felt more spacious, too, with a different, more elegant style of faucet. I took the opportunity to wash my hands, which is never a bad idea.
The dimensions of my top-floor office had likewise been altered, and the furniture re-arranged. My desk now stood against the far window. It seemed much the same desk but, on sitting down, I found that my knees slid more snugly beneath. Not uncomfortably so: a pleasing snugness. And, looking about myself, at the filing cabinets and the poster board, it struck me that I actually preferred the new layout.
The desktop computer sat squarely back in place. On a whim, I fired it up. That computer had been working more slowly by the day, but now—Bingo!—it started like it had just been installed. Everything flows, I thought to myself, and then I tried it aloud. "Everything flows. Things fall apart—sometimes it's gradual, other times sudden—but only to reconfigure themselves. They shift, yes, but then they pull themselves back together, taking a new shape, perhaps, in the process. Change doesn't need to be a bad thing. Why, there's nothing to fear but..."
Greatly reassured by these and other simple truths, I fell to catching up on the day's emails.
The story first appeared on Cafe Irreal in Spring 2020
Paul Blaney wears a variety of hats. His main vocation is as a fiction writer but he also works as a freelance journalist, a teacher, editor, and publisher. Born and raised in London, he has lived and worked in Lisbon, Hong Kong, and Eugene, Oregon, and now lives in Easton, PA. Recent publications include Handover, a novella set in Hong Kong, and The Anchoress, another novella whose main protagonist locks herself in her walk-in closet and won't come out. In 2015 Paul's first novel, Mister Spoonface, was published. The book explores what it means to be a father in an era of artificial reproduction. His two most recent novels are Crown of Thorns, the story of a 21st-century messiah, and Jardin des Animaux, which features wild animals, tunnels and love in a time of civil war