A windowless meeting room, night. On the wall is a whiteboard with obscene shapes and words in different colored markers. A and B sit at the table in exhaustion.
A: Do you have anything?
A: Same as always.
B: Would you rather a miracle?
A: Are you seriously asking?
A: Well then …
B: If I could produce miracles with the [snaps fingers] snap of my finger … [looks at A, snaps finger at him twice] … this is the last place I’d be.
A: Is that so? [Pause.] Where would you be?
B: Not here.
A: Oh that’s not fun. [Pause.] Lemme guess, buried alive under naked and writhing coeds?
A: Okay … you’d be barhopping for eternity because you willed an iron tolerance to all hard alcohol. Getting the heightened sense of well-being without all the perceptional impairment, dehydration, nausea, and headache.
B: What are you talking about?
A: Would hard drugs — illegal drugs and pills, I mean — fall under that as well?
B: Fuck off with that.
A: Ah ha! You want to be able to traverse the farthest reaches of space to find the nearest black hole and triple axle square into it, come what may: annihilation, transference to an alternate cosmic realm — or whatever.
B: It’s none of those. [Pensive pause.] Actually the third one you mentioned …
A: The black hole, annihilation …
B: Doesn’t sound half-bad. [Chuckles to himself.] But no. If I had any handle on sorcery I’d …
A: Well? Out with it.
B: I’d just be younger.
B: Yeah, like, say, by 12 years.
A: That’s really exact.
B: 12 years ago was a good time for me. Everything that could go well was going well. [Pause.] And then it wasn’t. [Pause.] And now I’m here.
A: Way to show your appreciation, pal. Pal who I’ve worked with and sweated alongside — brow to brow almost — for five years.
B: I didn’t mean it like that.
A: Well … whatever the case, I’m sure you’re not alone in that. I mean, I can’t remember precisely a time like that for me that was without a doubt a good period. Good things just came in fits and starts … or in … flows and ebbs. But you don’t need a miracle to restore youth. You don’t even need a fucking cosmetic surgeon. [Pause.] All it takes is a reframing of mind.
B: Reframing of mind?
A: A new way of looking at things. A “life hack” is what I keep hearing in the intern pen. It’s taking the glum aspects of your situation and twisting them into something new and different.
B: I never really thought about it like that.
A: It’s not actually that easy to think about. In fact most times when people try they end up doing things that just worsen their situations.
B: You mean they age forward faster?
A: You could say that. In fact, the reframe of mind is a big reason why you’re here at all.
B: How do you mean?
A: Well, you replaced someone whose reframing of mind didn’t exactly go well.
A: I don’t remember all the details. I was here but not in this department, and certainly not his equal. So it’s all hearsay.
B: Of course.
A: But … [leans in, stares intently] this guy, this … executive got so fed up with his situation. It fell into this brutal routine of meetings with no purpose, screaming at underlings he didn’t recognize for failing to fulfill tasks he didn’t remember delegating, and eating food that tasted exactly the same no matter where it came from — home-packed, BLT Steak power lunch, the basement cafeteria desk salad. All felt like mealy sawdust in his mouth. Actually, this one time I did see him, or someone who in hindsight must have been him. This guy sitting in your current corner office, over his plate glass desk, eating an apple with the most self-disgusted look on his face, like it was an infant’s head or something.
B: This is sounding frighteningly familiar. What did he do?
A: Get this, he worked on weekends.
A: I know! From nine to five, Saturday and Sunday. All while still keeping his weekly schedule.
A: But here’s the crazy part: it worked.
A: I can only speculate. Maybe just setting his own pace? Or living the office fantasy he’d always dreamed of without reality’s intrusions. Like, he probably just kicked his feet up at this desk and smoked cigars and drank bourbon. Maybe filed a few rough proposals — who knows? But what I do know — or what I remember hearing, anyway — is that pretty soon he saw some improvement. Mainly that his sense of taste came back to him. But in a big way.
B: How so?
A: He could just taste things more intensely. Probably more than any human ever thought possible. Like it wasn’t just food, it was inedible objects, too. Like crazy glue, mouse pads, ear buds. Pretty soon there were suspiciously routine shortages of office supplies. No one could figure it out. It happened every other Monday. Until some top brass came in one weekend for an emergency conference call or something and found him in the break room, sitting at a table, reading his kindle, while tearing at a manila folder and dipping the pieces into a Papa John’s garlic sauce cup filled with printer ink.
B: A folder?
A: Tearing at it, like it was challah bread.
B: What happened?
A: I suspect one of two things happened after they pumped his stomach. He either took a severance, with a nondisclosure attached to it, and is living out of a boat in Turks and Caicos and eating whatever he wants, or he’s a few miles away in the psych ward catatonic from the rigors of his “therapy.” [Pause.] But I hesitate to say which is more plausible. All I know is he was out and you, my friend, were in.
A: So … you know … it could be worse.
B: Yeah. [Pause.] All that from working weekends?
A: Working weekends.
B: A college friend of mine took up weightlifting. Before we graduated I used to see him mixing shreds of the Daily Mail into his protein shake. He got it on a special, and pretty pricey, subscription. I wonder if that was the same thing.
A: Could be.
B: He hasn’t updated his Facebook in over three years. Must be doing some important work.
A: That’s the life right there.