Flash Fiction: Eight

It’s 7:40. Turn left onto the dead end street and rumble over the pitted lot, stopping the car more or less between two faded lines.

Open the advertisement-plastered doors and enter the arcade from the north. Walk to the south end. Seven people already wait, but not in a line, except for the father and son in their camp chairs to the immediate right of the entrance. 7:43.

Sit on a bench between two of the earlier arrivals. Take out your phone and pretend to have important emails from people who wouldn’t actually be at the office yet.

Put your phone away and take out a book. Don’t actually read it. Watch the others out of the corner of your eye. Why aren’t they in a line? 7:48. Two young women in bright outfits stroll down the arcade and settle in behind you, closer to the entrance where you can’t see them. Listen to their chatter as your heart starts to beat a little faster.

The south arcade doors open and close periodically. Don’t turn around to acknowledge the newcomers. Don’t reveal your absurd, escalating panic of losing your rightful position as number eight. Set the book aside in favor of more imaginary, immediate-response-required messages from the office. 7:52.

No sign of life behind the plate glass windows. A woman clutching a large cup of coffee strolls down the arcade and barks “So, this is where we wait, huh?” Evaluate how her unnecessary vocalization might speak to her level of respect for order.

How many others are there now? You are number eight. Number eight.

Give up your feigned nonchalance and turn side sideways on the bench. Sweep the plate glass windows with your eyes. Feel a twinge of desperation. Still no movement, no light. 7:55. The south doors open and close. More people. More interlopers. More line skippers who are going try to push you to number nine, ten, or even eleven.

And then, the fluorescents flicker and the bureaucrats emerge. 7:57. Rise slowly. Play it cool. Nod in acknowledgement to these before you. Stare hard at the others lest they get any cheeky ideas. Fall into place. A line, at last. Cross your arms. Point one foot outward at the end of your extended leg, daring anyone to pass. It’s almost over, but only almost. Be vigilant a few minutes longer. Glance back. 20 now, maybe 25. Number eight is not bad at all.

7:59. A woman in clothes as washed out as the decor of the room in which she stands sentry watches the clock, poised, hand on door handle. Tick, tock, tick, tock. 8:00 at last. She opens the door. Feet shuffle. Sighs radiate. Adrenaline recedes. The line snakes through the opening and its participants scatter to claim a temporary buffer from fellow supplicants. Take your number. Sit. Still the last nervous tic, let your face turn to stone, and open your book again. You have plenty of time to read it.

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