Jackson opened his apartment door cradling the lamp he’d made a decade ago in high school shop class against his hip like it was a three-year-old or a koala and saw a woman holding a clipboard standing where the welcome mat used to be.
The woman wore an ID badge on a string around her neck and her black hair hung nearly to her waist. She saw Jackson and took a step back. “What’s the lamp for?
Jackson startled and fumbled the lamp, nearly dropping it. “Sorry. Forgot I even had it.” He put the lamp behind his back.
The woman laughed, her breath steaming in front of her.
Jackson couldn’t help smiling. “Would you believe I was redecorating?”
“No,” the woman said, “I wouldn’t.” She wiped her eyes. “Try again.”
“I was about to chuck this lamp out my bedroom window.”
“That I’ll believe. What for?”
“I was trying to answer What now? and it was the only thing I could think of.”
Long, slender eyebrows arched over dark brown eyes. “Still going to do it?”
Jackson shook his head. His light brown curls followed a half-second behind. “I don’t think so. I’d probably hit a reindeer or somebody in a wheelchair.”
“I didn’t see any reindeer or wheelchairs in the parking lot, so if that was stopping you, it shouldn’t.”
Jackson nodded. “Even still. Look, I’m getting cold. You want to come in?”
“I’m not supposed to. Plus, there’s the fact I don’t know you.”
Jackson thought for a moment. “First off, I’m guessing you’re supposed to ask the questions on your clipboard, not laugh at people for almost tossing lamps.”
The woman rolled her eyes and shrugged. “So?”
“My name is Jackson. Your badge says yours is Monica.” He stuck out his hand. Monica took it. Jackson said, “Now we’re not strangers. I’m freezing. Why don’t you come in and ask me whatever questions are on your clipboard.”
“I don’t really want to.”
“Come in or ask the questions on your clipboard?”
“Ask the questions.”
“Then come in and we’ll pretend the clipboard doesn’t exist.”
“You have any coffee?”
“Yeah, filters and cups, too. And that’s about it.”
Monica’s eyebrows knitted for a second, but she nodded. “Sounds good. I can barely feel my feet.”
Jackson backed up into the apartment and set the lamp on the kitchen table. He gestured to the chairs on either side. “Take your pick.”
Monica sat. She set her clipboard on the table, face down.
Jackson busied himself with coffee, filters, water.
After a moment Monica asked, “Are you some kind of crazy minimalist or something?”
Jackson snorted. “Ex-girlfriend took all her stuff and moved out a couple days ago. All I’ve got is what you see here plus my clothes and a sleeping bag.”
“That’s it.” He pulled two coffee cups out of an otherwise empty cabinet and set them next to the coffee maker.
“Hence What now?”
“More or less, yeah.” The coffee pot gurgled. A stream of coffee began to fill the carafe. The smell of coffee filled the kitchen.
“I’d say it sounds like more.”
Jackson nodded as if deciding something. “This morning I was lying in bed—lying in my sleeping bag—thinking that the window is a lot higher than it used to be now that I’m sleeping on the floor.”
Monica raised an eyebrow “Perspective and all that.”
“Yeah, it makes sense. About the only thing that did. Why did she take everything but the table and chairs?”
Monica shrugged. “She’s your ex. You tell me.”
Jackson pulled the carafe and slipped a coffee cup under the stream of coffee. The drops he missed hissed on the hot plate. “No idea. This morning, I was trying to think about something else, and I remembered a friend telling me that female reindeer keep their antlers all winter. Males drop theirs. Which means that Santa’s reindeer are all female.”
“Even Rudolf.” Jackson slipped the carafe back under the coffee stream and handed Monica the cup. “I hope you like it black.”
“Black is fine.” Monica sipped the coffee and let out a small sigh. “She took the sugar?”
“She does a lot of baking.” Jackson shrugged. “The reindeer thing made me think that when you mix logic and magic you get slop and nothing makes sense, like in a relationship when everything you did and didn’t say get all crossed up with everything you did and didn’t do, and the next thing you know you’re philosophical and sore from sleeping on the floor.”
Monica drank coffee. “Sounds like you’ve had a full morning.”
Jackson stood in front of the coffee pot, waiting for it to finish. “There’s more if you want to hear it. If I’m not freaking you out.”
Monica smiled. “No, you’re fine. I’ve had a few mornings like the one you’re having right now.” She jabbed a finger at her clipboard. “I’m not doing this because I’ve got everything figured out.” She pulled the ID badge over her head and untangled it from her hair and set it on the table.
Jackson poured coffee into his cup and sat across from her. “Okay,” he said. He told her how the perspective shift from sleeping on the floor reminded him of a day at work when they spent the morning in wheelchairs to see things from a different perspective, to raise their awareness of access issues. “I felt trapped,” he said. “So I organized a wheelchair race to distract myself. We got caught, of course. I got written up for it.” He drank coffee. “Fair enough. Whatever. When the session was over, I was so happy to stand up out of that thing. This morning, laying in my sleeping bag, I felt trapped. I don’t know why. I tried to stand up out of it, like I got out of that wheelchair, but it didn’t get me anywhere except standing in an empty room.”
“I know the feeling,” Monica said, quietly.
Jackson waited, but she didn’t say anything else. “I was standing there, next to my sleeping bag and the hoodie I’m using for a pillow, and I asked myself, What now?”
Monica nodded and sipped her coffee, holding the mug with both hands.
“I said it out loud a couple times. What now? What now? It was really getting to me, you know? So I decided I’d chuck the lamp out the window.”
The question was plain on Monica’s face.
“It was an answer. I’m not saying it was a good answer, but I needed an answer just then.”
“What stopped you?”
“The doorbell. Hucking the lamp out the window wasn’t the answer to What now? Answering the door was.”
Monica smiled. “Good timing, I guess.” She set her cup on the table. Her clipboard slipped off the wall and rattled onto the tabletop. She pushed it to the center of the table and set her ID badge on top of it.
Jackson looked at the clipboard. “What now? isn’t one of the questions you’re supposed to ask me, is it?”
“No, thank God. I hate that question.”
“That clipboard is your What now?”
“Yeah. Pretty lame, huh?”
“Better than throwing a lamp out a window.”
“I guess,” Monica said, “but it doesn’t always seem like it.”
The coffee pot gurgled and they both smiled, then squashed the smiles.
Jackson stood. “Well, coffee, can be the answer to What now? and we can worry about the rest later.”
Monica leaned back in her chair, a frown creasing her forehead. “We?”
“I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant two people answering the same question at the same time. Nothing weird in that, is there?”
Monica’s face smoothed out. “No,” she said. “Nothing weird in that at all.”
Leave a comment with a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location and I will write a story based on your prompt and tag you when I publish it.
Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash