The Space Between Part 2
 

That’s everything?” She waited a beat before pushing back from the table. “Thank you. Next meeting Friday.”< xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" prefix="o" namespace="">

 

Next Friday. Always and forever next Friday.

 

He had stood and moved toward the door slowly letting the others file out first.  He knew he was flushed red at the time, coloured like an Easter egg under his dishwater brown hair and rimless glasses. He tried to hide the grimace in his smile cast back at Charmaine but by her expression he knew that he failed in that.  He turned and bolted from the room before her impression had time to set.

 

He had retreated to his desk. He even closed the door to his office though Charmaine had told him once that barring his lunch it should always remain open.

 

He had stared through the window watching the cars move by on the street. A hotdog vendor smoked beside his yellow plastic covered stand, three women walked abreast on the sidewalk, their faces contorted with laughter. A lone man read a paper and shouldered his bag as he slowly walked out of sight. Above them all the sky was clear, marred slightly by a jet trail cocaine line and small white clouds held static in the cold calm blue. Could he but will himself away from his flesh? Let his soul free itself from his body and join with the sky. He had remembered reading a story, or perhaps it was a joke, some months before about a man found dead at his desk. He had been there a week before his co-workers had discovered him. No. Charmaine wouldn’t leave him alone long enough for that to happen. His teeth ground together and he felt his fingers curl like claws about the keyboard.

 

Charmaine was a nine in the Ministry salary scale. Grant was a seven. Seven. Never an eight—never a nine. The eights and nines are younger than he is now. He remembered when they all seemed so old. Now at 36 years and one month he watched them blow past him on up the ladder.

 

The telephone had rung.

 

He had looked at the call display window; it was his own number calling. Iris was calling. She called whenever the moment took her—if he was in she’d ask him some question about the new décor-or something about a new purchase. The woman spent money with no thought of the future—only the now.

 

The telephone rang on. He let it. He knew that if he had picked up the receiver it would start again. He would take it out on her. She didn’t deserve it, but he would hurt her anyway. Her tears had tutored him in the tone of voice, the abruptness of his replies, the condescension in his words. A small part of him was swimming deep in a black well, a voice inside of his breast asked him not to treat her so. It drowned in a wave of something bitter. She shone. She glowed. He took some dark pleasure in diminishing it. He let Iris ring through to his voice mail, but wrote her name on the small yellow pad by the telephone. He had written her name reverently as her name were the first word in an elegy. He paused for a moment looking at it and then scribbled a small picture—a cartoon of a bird on a wire.

 

The file he had left on his desk was a half a foot thick. The pages white, toner streaked half of the top page with a ghost of the text, the other half faded black on black, like half of the page had been painted with soot. When the telephone began to ring a second time he still had the pen tracing her name. The symbols in the display window read “Local 79 Ossberg” and showed a number. He wrote the number down under Iris’ name. He had pulled the sheet free and worried it in his hand, rolling it and unrolling it before folding it in quarters and palming it.

 

He had looked to the wall that faced his desk and the closed door with his jacket hanging on the back. Work. No work. He rose as the last ring was cut off abruptly by the message service. Grant stood slowly, the anger sunk deep in his stomach rising as he did. He grabbed his coat from the hook on the door and shrugged it on as he walked from the office. He dropped the small yellow page into his pocket as he did.

 

Charmaine had called after him down a long carpeted hallway, but he ignored her as he had walked away.

 

Then he was in the mezzanine with its blue tinted windows and glass doors. Beyond that was the blur of the sidewalk, the rush of people on the street, the motion of cars and trucks to his left on the black asphalt. Then there was the street corner, the idiot in the blue car with his noisy horn and swarthy face; the music; a bookstore window with half caught glances of books by George Elliot and J.R.R. Tolkien balancing on an antique brass scale. 

 

They registered in the moment and then were lost. He did not stop walking. And then suddenly it was now. The sidewalk gave way to grass and he slowed. For the first time in a block he looked up from his shoes. The anger began to fall from him leaving him emptier now than when he had started. He was standing beside a wooden bench. The grass was a verge at the front of a church. The park was empty as it would be in the morning of a workday. He reached up to his forehead and rubbed the deep lines there. He ran his hand down his face and felt the wetness there. Tears? Sweat? The world filtered through his senses became amplified, larger, louder. Too loud.  As he left the verge his stomach began knotting. It felt like he had swallowed a viper, alive and moving, looking for a way out.

 

He stumbled feeling his gorge rising. There by the newspaper box with the front plexiglass smashed in; an alley yawned wide before him, inevitable. He plunged in, the sound of street behind him faded as he felt the urge to vomit take him; the wrenching doubled him over for two quick steps and then threw him forward upon all fours upon the ground. He watched the liquid pouring out, acid and vile with that Parmesan cheese stench.

 

His watch stopped precisely at < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">12:00, the small silver XII obscured by a small fleck of vomit. There was no serpent on the ground; just scrambled eggs (2), toast with jam (half a slice), six sections of a grapefruit (pink), coffee, one and a half cups (milk, no sugar.)

 

It all looked the same to him.

 

When he next looked up, his anger was almost completely gone and, embarrassed by his state he blushed. It was silent in the alley refulgent with the stench. Perched on a fire escape a large black bird cocked its head at him.

 

Damn big crow, he thought to himself.

 

“Raven,” said the bird.

 

Grant froze. Though thirty odd years of television had told him that this kind of thing happened, he quite honestly was unprepared for a talking animal. Birds talk though, Parrots do, and magpies. Magpies. Like Heckle and Jekyl. Cartoons. He sat down beside the puddle of vomit and stared up at the bird.

 

“Who’s a pretty bird?” Grant asked as he wiped the remnants of his breakfast from his lips and began to crawl slowly backwards. It seemed like the only thing to say.

 

“Raven,” said the small dog that stepped out from behind a dumpster. “He just told you that? By the way,” the dog said in a female voice while indicating the puddle of vomit with her white tipped muzzle, “You gonna eat that? It smells fantastic.”

 

Grant Buchner managed to say “No.” before he fainted, his cheek coming to rest in his used breakfast.

 

                        *****

 

He didn’t remain unconscious long. His faculties returned at the urging of an incessant lapping of a broad and moist tongue over his face. He woke and spasmed, pushing the furred face from his. His watch still read 12:00 though he didn’t look at it.

 

“Stop it.” He shoved at the furred chest.

 

“That’s better.” The little dog stepped gracefully backwards.

 

“ Coyote,” said the Raven, large and menacing as it adjusted it’s wings and peered at him from its perch.

 

“ I can see your thoughts.” The Raven looked bored.

 

“ You can read my thoughts?”

 

“ Not much happening in there right now.” Raven cocked its head back and forth.

 

“ Sorry” Grant shook his head. “ I’m not used to …I’m …I’m having a psychotic episode of some sort at the moment, Please excuse me.”

 

“ I understand,” said the Raven, he ruffled his feathers and began to preen them back into place. The coyote began to speak to him again.

 

 “ It’s good to see you up and around. What’s the matter?” Grant looked like he was going to vomit again.

 

“ Sorry, it’s worse when you speak…parrots and all that…it’s quite different when a dog does.”

 

“ Coyote...” said the coyote, “Perhaps this will help some.” As she spoke her form became indistinct. It shifted and solidified and when it was finished she looked like a very fat, very pregnant woman with indistinct facial features and blunt extremities. She looked very much like a human representative of an ancient carving he had seen on a discovery channel episode. The …something…Venus. She held her hands protectively over her belly as Lisa did earlier.

 

“Better?”

 

Grant stared at her blankly.

 

“Oh really, if you can get used to talking animals, you should be fine with a little transformative hocus pocus.”

 

“That’s true.” Grant mumbled. Though he felt further from fine that he had for a very long time.

 

Raven cocked his head and spoke to the figure that was Coyote.

 

 “A classic look.” Grant realized that the birds voice sounded precisely like David Nivens’ voice in a movie he had watched last week. It was a black and white film, Second World War with Errol Flynn and airplanes.

 

“ Can you stand? Are you feeling any better?” the woman that used to be a coyote had a concerned look on her fat lined features.

 

“ A little “ Grant said, rolling onto his buttocks. He got to all fours and checked his balance.

 

“Where am I?”

 

“ In the middle of an alleyway.”

 

“ The middle…”

 

“ Exactly!” The fat naked figure that was Coyote bounced and jiggled over to help him to his feet,

 

“ The middle.” Grant stood up shakily.

 

“ The middle of what?”

 

“ This is so much better, “ said Coyote. “ Used to be you appeared and you couldn’t stop folk from bowing and scraping, lighting bonfires and sacrificing goats, cattle…children!” She planted a flabby finger upon Grants chest.“ It’s gratifying to see that those spikes of atheism have done some damn good.”

 

“ What are you talking about? “

 

“ Never mind.”

 

Grant wiped the fleck of vomit from the front of his watch face. He thought as he did that the subject of children kept cropping up more often of late. Babies, wombs, songs about them, talk about them, pictures on desks…, his mind flashed over multiple connections, surprised at how many associated things he has perceived, but not really seen over the past day.

 

“You know it shouldn’t be such a surprise to you. You monkeys move through your lives like paramecium on a slide running into the edge. If they could think they might think “god what a coincidence. I ran into the edge of the slide yesterday.” Some other paramecium pipes up…me too. Just heard a song about the edge of the slide on my way to work this morning. Weird huh? Must be a plan! There must be a meaning!” She began to shrink as she spoke, her outline changing again. She stopped changing when she was a pale teenaged girl with spiked black hair, dressed in torn black jeans and a Ramones T-shirt.

 

“ Always looking for meaning to be given to them wrapped in a pretty pink bow.”

 

Grant was shaky as he stood and leaned on the side of the large green dumpster pulling away from the woman who used to be a Coyotes arm.

 

“ Better now?”

 

Raven ruffled his feathers, “He doesn’t know what you are talking about.”

 

Grant began to babble; “I’m Grant. Grant Buchner. I’m a civil servant.  I turned 36 last month. I…work for the Ministry of Consumer Affairs…”

 

Coyote blinked up at him. Her mascara looked like Lisa’s. “Is that it?” Grant turned away and started to the mouth of the alleyway.

 

“ I think I should leave.”

 

Raven flapped his wings. “You can’t.”

 

He turned to face the entrance to the alley. Beyond the mouth the world rushed by in a shifting ethereal dance, nothing seemed solid, nothing stopped long enough to take form. He saw ghosts of horse drawn carts, of old automobiles with raised fenders and thin tires, ones with huge fins on either side of their boots. He saw men and women and children dressed in a hundred varieties of clothing for different times shifting, becoming and then fading into wisps.

 

“ What is that?” He stumbled forward his hand outstretched to the motion beyond the confines of the alley.

 

“ The world” said Coyote “ Moves fast don’t it? So you aren’t a god?”

 

“ No.”

 

“ Was your father a god? It would fit if you were a demi-god. You being here I mean.” Coyote had changed herself again. Now she was a small girl, Asian with long shining hair and delicate features softly sculpted in golden skin. Grant reached out toward the ever-shifting world outside of the alley.

 

“ No…No…my father was a postman.” His fingers brushed the edge of the alleyway and stopped. He placed his hand flat on the open area and pushed gently. It did not move. He placed both hands on the open space and pushed, grunting as he threw his weight behind it, pushing straight-armed from the shoulders. The invisible wall held firm.

“ DAMMIT!!” He drew back his fist and punched and his hand rebounded from it, knuckles split, blood starting.

 

“ Angry god.” Raven flew from the railing of the fire escape to alight on the nearest dumpster.

 

“ I’M NOT FUCKING ANGRY!!!’ Grant turned and glared at the bird. It now adopted a casual ease that though it looked nothing like him, strongly evoked David Niven once again.

 

“ I’m angry.” Grant deflated, his hand hurt. He looked around his feet and spying his briefcase flat against the alley wall he sunk down beside it. He pulled the leather case to his lap and opened it. Pulling out a small towel and hand sanitizer. He wiped the cut knuckles clean and applied the stinging gel.

 

“That’s because you hate yourself.” Raven peered at him with an expression of mild diversion; an expression that looked particularly disturbing on a being with only a beak and peripheral onyx bearings for facial features.

 

“ I don’t…’ began Grant…

 

“ Yes you do. Mind reader. Remember?” Raven moved his weight from talon to talon.

 

Grant quietly rubbed at his knuckles and looked at the Raven with narrowed eyes.

 

“Not nice.” said raven cocking his head. “Not nice at all. Maybe you could think of something shiny instead—I’d rather like that.”

 

Grant found his thoughts shifting to his father in uniform—deep blue—the red piping along the leg—the shadow of the bag over his shoulder as he stood in the front hall light as he left for work in the early morning.

 

“ Much nicer.” The raven settled its feathers.

 

“There is no poetry in you, white boy, but there is a little heart.” Coyote was a young woman again, with deep coffee skin, wide lips and liquid eyes. She was dressed in the formless baggy uniform of hip-hop. Grant stared at Coyote,

 

“ Must you do that?” He turned to look at Raven, “And why is it that you don’t change?”

 

Raven, sprouted red and green feathers, his black, sharp beak curved and thickened, a white blazon appeared at his shoulder and more white around his eye. The eye was blue and sparkled as the macaw that was Raven clucked and fussed in the manner of parrots before mimicking Grant

 

 “ RAAAWK, Why is it that you don’t change? RAAAWK”

 

Grant blinked. In the time between when his lashes beat together and then opened to let light in again, Raven had become himself again, black and still. Coyote curled her tail under her haunches and opened her mouth wide.

 

 “Postman…” her voice was almost a purr.

 

“You do know what they are?”

 

“Of course, this is the place of messengers isn’t it?”

 

“ I don’t really know what this place is thank you very much…But they aren’t gods.”

 

“ So you say.”

 

“ Angels?” Grant almost smiled.

 

“ Them?” Said Coyote “ Most of the time they only think they’re gods.”

 

“ And me…”

 

“ Obviously.”

 

“ What do you mean? What does that even mean? And where exactly is here…you said an alleyway—but this isn’t like any alleyway I’ve ever seen…an alleyway should have a opening that you can get out of—and no taking birds and shape-changing dog women, just dumpsters and rats and ...uh...winos.”

 

Both animals remained silent. Grant finished speaking and looked at them ruefully.

 

“You about done?” Coyote moved her head back and forth looking him in the eye.

 

“Can I get a straight answer?”

 

“We don’t generally go in for straight answers Grant—we tend toward obfuscation in prophecy, rhyming couplets that suggest some universal truth about humankind if you work at it. Oh, and we are rather big on ambiguous predictions that can easily be misinterpreted depending on the individuals mindset at the time—usually involving extensive irony and a tragic end for all involved. At least we were back in Greece. Nowadays everyone wants a happy ending.”