Chalmers Penn began to think he didn’t matter anymore. He knew he still existed, but even when he looked in the mirror, he seemed a little less there. Not mentally, that was all good, but he could almost swear that he was fading.
This required some tests. He started on Monday. Something small, just in case it was a mental thing, he wore tennis shoes to work. Not is decent, casual Friday ones, but the ones he used to cut the grass, air-conditioned from a few holes and dyed stark green from the blood of a million blades of grass.
He had no meetings. No deliveries and his lunch pal, Bill was out of the office for two days so Monday seemed to be a bust. There were no opportunities for people to see his shoes, except for maybe Betsy whom he stopped by to ask a question, but she was deeply entrenched in a phone conversation, busily handling one of her standard fires and neglected to see him.
On Tuesday, he decided to bump things up a bit by wearing his old college Hawaiian party shirt and his grass cutting shoes. He had a fairly big meeting with Jolsten that afternoon and surely it would be a topic for discussion. Unfortunately, just as he got to Alice’s desk, Jolsten’s admin, she was cancelling his meetings for the rest of the afternoon and was informing Bolger, Jolsten’s boss, since his afternoon was clear, golf was a go.
On Wednesday, Penn decided to keep the shirt and the shoes and bump things up by getting drunk at breakfast and staying drunk all day. Not boomingly, stupidly drunk, but impaired enough to be noticeable. Near lunch time Bill swung around as he normally did, peeked over the rim of Penn’s cubicle and then wordlessly, hastily stepped away.
Did he see me or did he see me? Chalmers wondered. “Hey, Bill…” but Bill was gone.
In the cafeteria, by himself, he filled his tray with pretzels and three orders of fish strips. He stopped hiding his vodka bottle and left it right there on the tray next to the two cans of lemon-lime soda he would use to mix it in. He noticed no stares, no slight comments…nothing. In line to pay, the cashier offered a smile and a pleasant exchange to the lady before him and then visually skipped him to greet the man after him. He stood at the end of the line while she took three more customers before deciding to leave.
Thursday he avoided the mirror. He was afraid more of what he might not see than what he expected to see, less of him. His phone never rang. It was eight days since he received a text from anyone, and he was nearly run over by that bicycle delivery boy. He decided that he must take one more, potentially catastrophic test. He went to work entirely naked, with a few drinks in him for courage, and went about his day.
On Friday, Chalmers Penn’s apartment was quiet and empty. A few dirty dishes stood in the sink unattended, a clock on a bookcase ticked as it had dutifully for years, but Chalmers Penn was nowhere to be seen.