Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Sweater - A Short Story

The Sweater

He wasn't wearing his sweater this time, and it scared him. So, he put on a plastic smile and wore it until it felt natural. Then he smiled all day, and if every passerby did indeed  glance at his smiling face, he did in fact look happy, and he made them smile. He made them feel happy, for that moment, until they found something else to feel. He thought he knew what happiness felt like, because he acted out what happiness looked like.

Usually, on a typical day, he gets dressed, thinks on what he has to do for the day, and heads out determined to do everything on the top portion of his list. The top portion is the no-excuses no exceptions part of the list; the part that will demand to be heard, and become louder the longer it takes, thumping in his chest until he is sure everyone can hear it's noisy push against his skin. Therefore, today is not a typical day.

Now today would have been a day just like any other, except for he forgot his sweater. He thinks somehow he might have done it on purpose, and that is infuriating, because he expects more of himself. Not to mention, when he wears that sweater, he is the same person he is everyday, in just the same way that the sweater stays the same.

His sweater means he's dressed. When he's dressed, he's ready; when he's ready, he looks as ready looks: he is calm, collected, reserved, full of ideas, and he is certain everyone sees him just as he sees himself. Everyone needs to see him as complete. So, he is sure they do.

What happens today requires him to look at what he's wearing; what happens today means he isn't himself. It means, that he doesn't know who he is. If he isn't himself, who is he? Can he be someone else? Who should he be? Are there rules?

As soon as the train stops, he walks down the steps and heads towards the north end of the terminal, and then up the stairs. He climbs them, one by one, slowly as if he is incapable of increasing his speed because he is made that way. He believes he's made that way, so he is. Plus, the stairs make him tired; they make everyone tired.

Because his sweater defines him, he is lost without it. He has been so busy being who he the person who wore the sweater would, and in fact, should be. He defined himself and by simply believing it, he convinced everyone else that's who he was, because he just seemed so sure that's who he is.

He gets to the top, and exits the station at street level. There, right there, before his office, is a consignment shop. This shop he's never seen before, because he usually counts the steps to work, not because he secretly dreads every last step. If he dreaded every last step, he wouldn't be there. Since he is there, then he must not count steps from dread, but because he is concerned that he walks the same pace everyday, that he isn't getting older, and in fact slower. That must be why he counts steps. He likes to be prompt; he likes to keep the same pace, never slow down.

So, he stops at this shop, and he looks for a sweater, just like his own. It needs to be brown, with light stitching down the elbows, and with little elbow pads for resting his arms on table when he's so thoroughly interested in the conversation that he feels he might need to relax and lean towards the speaker as if to say, tell me more. He doesn't lean because he's tired, because if he were that tired, any more tired than the next guy, he'd get more sleep. He doesn't sleep more, so he reasons that he must not really be all that tired.

This ridiculous store, with its clerks, just isn't prepared for a real business executive, a real hard worker; they don't understand he needs this sweater. What did she say, that there's a dark blue one? Okay, he'll take it. Putting his arms in the sleeves as he goes, he walks briskly towards his office.

Then something strange happens. He's so busy putting on this sweater that he forgets to smile. Someone bumps into him, and then they spill coffee on his sweater. This someone says they're sorry, and some small talk comes out of their mouth, and he must go to work without a sweater. Men without sweaters are not ready. They don't know what to expect. He knows this because his father was always prepared and knew what to expect, and his father wore a sweater. His father always got what he expected.

As he arrives, he walks through the front lobby, and lo and behold, an unexpected thing happens yet again. This woman, she wants to know where he got his shirt. The front desk clerk, she's worked there all along? He's surprised he hasn't noticed her before. She says she thinks men who are confident enough to wear soft colors are quite the men. Is he quite the man? He's always just though he was a man, the way a man is, and that was good enough. Today, he's thinking maybe a man can be an exceptional man, if they knew to expect it.

Maybe she's right; maybe sweaters are collected, and not quite anything but sweaters. Could he have been quite the man in the sweater? He's not sure, but he'll see who he is today, without his sweater. Maybe he will have to, as they say, "play it by ear."

He takes the stairs, and he climbs them, two by two. He begins to almost race up them, and he then his breath catches in his throat. He feels his heart thumping, and it scares him just slightly. Then he realizes, that feeling seems like the one that he has when he's working on his list, but he forgot his list. It's in his sweater. That feeling is because of thrill, not fright. So, he keeps going, til he gets to the top. He didn't even know he could get to the top, without stopping. He's amazed that he doesn't know what to expect, and it's fun.

Where did  the day go? It's closing time, and he must send the last email that contains his reports, his numbers, his conservative estimates and projections. Then, right before he sends it, something different happens. He signs his name as usual, and for some reason, he adds that even though his projections are most probable and most likely to happen, there is the possibility that if they expect more tomorrow, maybe more is possible. So, they will work for more; tomorrow, he says, " let's keep the options open."

He gets on the train, just as he's used to, and heads home, but this time, he's ready for anything. Maybe tomorrow can be different, if he is different. What if he isn't only the man who wears the sweater? What if believing men who wear sweaters need to be conservative made him conservative, because he acted that way, and thus everyone treated him that way, and he felt like that person. Until today, he thought he was that person, so he acted like it. What if...he forgets his sweater tomorrow?

(Written originally sometime in 2010. As usual, maybe I'll clean it up later. ;-p)