Beneath black skies and adjacent to a stretch of potholed highway, Rich let himself into the law offices of Angelou and Martinez through a window with no screen and loose screws along its frame. It was a small office with runny grey paint on its walls; the textured bumps of air bubbles trapped within the pigment like fossilized amber.
There were three floors. The first being a small lobby and reception area. This is where Rich found his way in—the window above the long couch for clients that need a place to sit. This was a nice setup because he could flounder his way through the window all he wanted and still end up falling onto a moderately comfortable canvas couch.
Tonight, he did flounder, sprawling onto the material with a quick exhalation that edged him further into exhaustion than he had been in weeks. Rich fought the urge to try and fall asleep right there in the front office, caught red handed at 6:45 in the morning when the blonde woman named Franchesca came in first thing to start the mail route throughout the building—a routine Rich had observed a few days ago from across the highway with a pair of Lecia Trinovid 10 x 25 binoculars. It was always 6:45 on the dot, and she started from the first floor, then the third, making her way back down in a zig-zag pattern to make sure she hit all the cubicles.
This gave him roughly four hours and two minutes to find a good place to sleep.
He normally went to the third floor for this, but found that being higher up did not necessarily make him more comfortable as he thought it would. It just reminded him of being in a bunk bed with his brother and looking out over the edge of the top, worried that the guard rails were just too small or too fragile to hold up while he dreamed.
Rich didn’t want the first floor either. In the case that he overslept (which he only had done once before, but once was enough), the first floor would be disastrous. The second floor would grant him the most time to realize his mistake and get the hell out of there before Franchesca made her rounds.
He went up the stairs, sleeping bag in hand and pillow tucked under his arm. Sometimes he considered swaddling up in the stairwell and resting there for the night. Something about the echo on the rubber steps, the tight walls, and the cool air was even more solitary in his mind than any room in the building itself. Nonetheless, he knew the neck pain he’d procure if he indulged in this particular desire outweighed the potential benefits.
The second floor were the cubicles for the middle-workers, the ones who didn’t get their own offices like the titular Angelou and Martinez of the law offices of Angelou and Martinez did.
The last time Rich slept here it was in one of the cubicles. Tom Hartman’s, to be exact to the nameplate on the cubicle. He liked how bare it was, how limited and enclosed. There was only one photo of a woman that Rich presumed to be his sister due to the resemblance of their brows and cheekbones, but he could have been mistaken. There was that and a company calendar with all the important dates, which Rich took note of. He thought it was strange they took off Columbus day, but he wasn’t complaining that there were extra days of vacancy.
Rich didn’t want to sleep in Tom Hartman’s cubicle. He rarely liked to sleep in the exact same spot more than once, especially when there were so many other options.
Lisa Hamlin’s was nice enough, but she didn’t clean like the others did, and the last time he checked her spot there were dust bunnies big enough to nibble on carrots lying in the corners of the enclosement.
Henry Polak’s had too many photos of his family. Just walking into the little four-walled space felt loud with all of those memories screaming back at you. Rich would occasionally move objects around to better suit his needs, but a rearrangement of those proportions required some level of precision and memory he did not possess.
Going through the options, Rich found himself settling for the northeast corner of the hallway. Cubicles were too similar and too different, and Rich learned that when he became indecisive it carried on far too long for anything even moderately productive to arise from it. He cut off his self-argument at the root and threw the sleeping bag down on the carpeted floor.
It was vacuumed very recently, Rich presumed after spotting the janitorial staff leaving the building last night in their van as he drove by on the highway. That’s what spurred him to give this spot another try, anyways. He was sick of the bigger buildings and their white tile that never came quite as clean as the wet-vacced carpets, or at least the carpets had the courtesy of being able to hide small specks of refuse between incomprehensible fibers instead of letting them lie on the whiteness, as loud stains that did not let him sleep.
Rich settled his pillow against the corner of the wall and slid beneath his sleeping bag, taking off his socks and placing them neatly outside the bag. He spread his toes along the cool interior of the sleeping bag, feeling another wave of exhaustion come over him.
He was so excited to be so tired, but had to suppress it so that excitement didn’t transfer into energy of any kind. Rich wanted to be empty.
He hadn’t slept in nearly a week. Rich tried many offices, always getting in, but never able to find sleep when he closed his eyes. This was the worst bout of insomnia he’d had all year, but he figured it to be about time for his luck to run out. Before this particular sleeplessness, he had even started to remember his dreams in the morning. Now, it was just darkness and the eventual transition to light.
Rich never held a job in an office. It was only by happenstance did he trespass within one a few years prior and discovered their loveliness at night, their rhythmic cadence of abandonment that hushed him to sleep like a mother’s humming lullaby. There were no places in the city like these at night that suffered so much quiet.
Rich shivered beneath the covers like a cold, thin wave had washed over him. He ached for sleep, he ached for sleep like one aches for a lost lover when spotting their silhouette in a pillow by their resting head. He felt compelled to fall into some kind of endless pit just so the blackness below could be so complete, so abject and solid, that he would sleep in it as the air became his cushions.
Thinking of this, Rich closed his eyes. The alarm on his watch would wake him up three hours and forty-eight minutes later—three minutes before Francesca would walk in the door. Enough time for him to slip out on the out-of-code fire escape through the window a few feet above him.
A tear welled up in his eye. He wiped it with his shoulder and sniffled. Rich wondered how long it would take him to die if he could not fall asleep. It didn’t feel like it would be long.
But he knew not to think about it too much. Something deep in the building hummed. Rich heard it through closed eyes, and it sang him to sleep.