He sits at his desk surrounded by the tempered steel and esoteric lights of the factory and blinks his mechanical blink. At home with the machines that follow a kind of logic that can not be applied to warm blooded creatures. His brethren here make sense to him. He runs through that kind of rational process that has come to define his life. If this, then that. Tighten there, grease here. Repeat every one-hundred sixty hours. Start, stop, eat, start, wait, start, stop. As regular and predictable as a metronome. And when it isn’t, there are manuals to troubleshoot it. He wonders why life didn’t come with such instructions. Rising from his chair with a groan he places one foot in front of another out the door and into the night. Into the car. Out of the car. In the front door. Cook, stop, eat, stop, wait, sleep.
But sleep seldom comes easily. It is one of the rare areas of his life that stubbornly refuses his attempts to predict. He had tried every trick in the book. Then he had tried the book. Weighed its case against a litany of accusations and found it wanting. He sentenced it to the free bin at the local Salvation Army and resorted instead to tinkering with his biochemistry. Roll, stop, spark, pop, swig, swallow, wait. A slowness overtook him and time dilated like a second hand on a logarithmic scale. Impossible. Improbable. Unavoidable. Every tick discernible: attack, sustain, decay. Every tock the same. Every space between stretching out past Mars, Neptune, Voyager II, towards the very edges of universe. Perhaps the next strike would find him out there somewhere. Perhaps he could not be found at all.
As far as knew he it had always been like this. As far as he knew it always would be. He had memories of other things. Times, places, people. Different lives that seemed to have no connection to this one. Dreams surely. Who could believe half of the things he thought he had remembered had actually happened. A man does not perform in front of ten thousand people one day then lay ten thousand splinters of schist into the stone walls he could see rise around him. The only thing linking these two images was a narrative he had pieced together that only he could know and that others must take on faith. This then that. Zig then zag. He must be out of his mind. Or lost in it. The only thing he could know for certain was the cold touch of tempered steel and the esoteric lights of the factory.
He felt things only by their absence. He knew cold because he had felt warmth. He heard music because he had known silence. Reality existed in the contrast of opposing forces. Action and reaction. Attack and decay. Somewhere in the middle there was a pause where the world turned upside over on its axis. Spring followed summer. The sun rose in the West. Then Order reasserted and the ending came. This, at least, was predictable. Who knew about the rest.
Singing, no, jingling, a ringing in his ears. A fuzzy recollection like a TV caught between stations. Then the room starts to refocus. The sea-coloured bedspread of another memory. The piles of half-read books waiting patiently. The dim hum of the first light breaking through the curtains that were seldom opened these days. He peeks between them to determine if he’s in the In-Between place. The twisting putrid gyre before Order reasserts itself. The tendrils of the dawn reassuringly in the East. He picks up the clothes he dropped the night before, dresses and heads for the door. The clock on the mantelpiece counts out his steps. One, two, three, rinse, repeat.