The meaning of life had finally agreed to meet everyone. Meaning would come to the coffee shop on Skype three blocks from everyone’s office, the coffee shop at which everyone had once done a reading. The shop had windows that looked onto the world. The world the windows looked onto featured people walking with Popsi Cola cans in hand, people with places to go and things to become, like janitors and bloggers and keepers of vast amounts of marketing data that could be used to sell them stuff.
The meaning of life had once visited the coffee shop, along with other parts of downtown, one Saturday night when a convention of rich and successful and beautiful people was in town. The night had involved much Popsi Cola drinking and a number of comparisons of savings account totals and Q Quotients, and the meaning of life remembered it fondly, especially the part when all downtown’s inhabitants crowded into the back room of a bar for karaoke. The meaning of life’s rendition of “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Woof?” was so good that a music record company executive had offered the meaning of life a contract.
Everyone was to leave directly from work at her or his office, which was on the twelfth floor. The normal route involved the elevator, but on this day the elevator was shut for repair. Hence, everyone left work early to walk down the stairs.
To prepare for the meeting, everyone had purchased the meaning of life’s music album and borrowed earbuds and a music player from her or his child Star, who was dead and thus couldn’t say no. Everyone listened to the meaning of life’s album on the way down.
The meaning of life’s album was full of soothing sounds such as wind in trees, bird chirps, and ocean waves. At random intervals, the meaning of life joined in with soft, howling chants. Everyone had difficulty staying awake.
Everyone skipped to the next song, hoping for something less sleepy, which the meaning of life had anticipated, providing an all-out rocker full of angry barks that made everyone turn down the settings on the player for fear that the stairs would crack beneath her or him. Everyone looked around. The stairwell seemed to have remained structurally sound, for which everyone was relieved.
At the bottom of the stairs, everyone could have eaten $5092 worth of chocolate. Everyone was famished. Everyone wished the coffee shop was not three blocks away.
Everyone took out a napkin and wiped at her or his brow. Everyone was sweaty. Everyone needed to stick to her or his diet.
Everyone was afraid the meaning of life would walk away once everyone’s weight was no longer secret.
Everyone was wearing baggy clothes. Everyone was being circumspect. But baggy clothes were a lot of baggage for a long walk.
Everyone stepped into the street. The sidewalk was full. A coterie of dog walkers was passing. Everyone waited.
Everyone checked the time on her or his cell phone.
There were a lot of dogs to walk.
Everyone joined the procession, even though it was going the wrong way. Everyone switched back to the meaning of life’s first song. Everyone needed to be soothed.
At the next block, everyone took a right turn. Everyone planned to go around the block, take the long path to the coffee shop. Everyone had time if she or he hustled.
The long path involved an alley. The alley went between a karaoke bar and a movie theater. Everyone stepped into it with a confidence she or he had not felt in forty weeks. The meaning of life’s album was playing a song of self-assurance. The song had a stoic beat that insisted the listener march like a Great Dane through a swarm of kittens.
A man with a dog stood in front of everyone. The dog was almost as large as everyone and had much longer teeth. Everyone shut off the music.
“You can’t go this way,” the man said. The dog snarled, jumped, fell back on its leash.
“But,” everyone countered, “there’s no other.”
The man shrugged his shoulders. “You’ll have to turn back.”
Everyone pulled out a cell phone as she or he rounded the building again. The dog walk continued. Everyone was late. Everyone dialed.
The meaning of life answered the phone. The meaning of life was waiting. In the background was a party. The party involved barking. The meaning of life had somewhere else to be--another party, on a boat. The boat left in twenty minutes. The meaning of life couldn’t wait.
Everyone tried to explain.
The meaning of life was very important and had lots to do. Perhaps they could try some other time. The meaning of life would call.
Everyone watched the dogs pass. Everyone was disappointed.
The man with the dog with long teeth came up behind everyone.
“Out now,” the man said to the dog. Everyone thought the man was talking to her or him.
Everyone joined the crowd. Everyone turned on the music player again, raised the volume, but all everyone could hear was barking.
Everyone wants you to read the book on which he or she is working, a novel everyone is writing in order to find the meaning of life, with which everyone’s spouse ran off. But everyone has to finish the novel before everyone can know where the novel begins. In the meantime, there are all these distractions, such as the twelfth-floor window at the office building where everyone works out of which people or maybe just one person keeps jumping or falling--everyone isn’t sure--or everyone’s sexy coworker Sam, whom everyone is struggling valiantly against to keep from becoming a paramour. It’s kind of pitiful, actually, the way everyone keeps begging you to read, sending you e-mails, dropping it into conversation (“I have a book, you know?”), posting links to it on social-networking sites. Everyone figures that if he or she begs enough, you will break down and try it. Everyone is like a dog that way, watching you eat your dinner. The way you handle the dog is to push it away from the table, lock it outside the room. Sometimes, of course, you hand the dog a bite, an inch-sized bit of beef, and that is all everyone is asking for--a bite, that you read just the first line of his or her book. The problem is that you know everyone too well. If you read one line, everyone will beg you to read another. Just one more.
To start from the beginning of the novel, go here.