“What are we going to do today, Brain?” asked Pinky.
“The same thing we do every day,” Brain said. “Take over the world!”
Clara smiled to herself as she remembered the dubious grin of the scheming mouse. This infamous line of her favorite TV show often bounced through her head like a cross between bubbles and rubber balls—sometimes gentle and wafting, other times full of energy and robust.
“You’re going to be late to the meeting, Clara.” A male voice interrupted her reverie.
“I was just waiting for you. You know I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Clara spun around in her office chair and crossed her arms at the wiry figure leaning against her door. He looked rather nice in his pressed black suit, she supposed. Maybe he’ll listen to me this time?
“Everything okay?” Roger took a step into her office and raised his eyebrow. “I can see those wheels turning up there.” He tapped his noggin with a slender finger.
Clara blinked a couple of times to still her darting eyes. Sometimes they overactivated when she thought too hard. But maybe if she presented her thought well, he’d listen. What was the phrase that Dad always said? “You never know until you try, Clara Bear.” After all, she and Roger still had ten whole minutes before the meeting. “Really quick, I have an idea,” she blurted. Her hand clapped over her mouth two seconds too late. That came out wrong, she thought.
Roger’s easy demeanor immediately starched.
“Clara, we’ve been over this.” She felt the familiar edge of disappointment in his voice, even with her eyes focused on the toe of her shoe. “You can’t add any new ideas to our presentation. It’s too late.”
Clara stole a glance at Roger to assess his body language. He fidgeted with his paisley tie and looked out her wall-length window at the courtyard below. “Besides, changing things now is unprofessional,” he said.
Clara put on her navy suit coat jacket without looking at him. Navy was her favorite suit color because it embodied respect without the brooding of solid black clothing. “It’s a good idea, though,” she whispered. “This could help Bunker’s & Sons change markets all over the world. If we just invest a small sum in Hong Kong’s industrial business as a test run…”
“Clara.” Roger’s tone struck her like a sack of potatoes.
She had just begun slipping into her daydream, but now it felt like she was falling. Again. He always had a way of making her lose her bearings.
“Clara, look at me.” Roger smoothed his coffee brown hair in a barely perceptible flinch.
That’s his annoyance flinch.
He sighed like her dad used to sigh when Clara bounded up to his lap with a new scheme, his patriarchal shoulders rising and collapsing once. Her father never discouraged her from ideas, but she suspected he tired of them occasionally.
“You can’t fix the world, sis. When will you understand that? You’re just one somebody in a world of everybody.” His brown eyes bore into her own. They popped the bubbles in her brain and caught the ricocheting rubber balls cold in their tracks.
His words felt like daggers in her chest.
He’d finally voiced his opinion of her once and for all.
She was insignificant. Or maybe the world was too big.
“Clara?” His voice revealed a tinge of unsteadiness now—quite unlike him. The flat carpet protested as he shifted his weight.
It’s not like she didn’t know his general sentiment towards her passion, though. Their early childhood together had made that clear. After all these years he’d never let go of her big mistake. Apparently, time didn’t heal all wounds.
“We need to go.” Roger’s inflection softened as he picked up her meeting folder from off her desk. He checked his left wristwatch against his right wristwatch and beckoned her with an outstretched hand.
Clara nodded her head, more as an acknowledgement that he’d spoken words than as an agreement. She wasn’t ready to be done with this conversation. As she exited her office, she glanced back at the inviting window. The trees outside were vibrant and full of life like the muscled oak trees outside Clara’s childhood home—the kind of trees that carried the community treehouse well.
What are we going to do today, Clara? she thought. The same thing we try to do every day—we’re going to change the world.
A faint smile played at the corner of her lips as she and her brother walked down the pensive hall to the meeting room. Inside, six of the company’s highest paid executives sat waiting for their minds to be changed. Here goes nothing, Clara thought.
I’m a strong, independent woman. I will not cry. Clara tried to block out the events of her humiliation less than thirty minutes ago as she walked along the back side of her office building. Thankfully, only a few people strolled in the heat of the August sun. Now is a great opportunity for a lunch break, she thought. Maybe she wouldn’t go back to work today. She’d failed Roger and put on a circus act for the people who paid her salary. The presentation part was fine… that was, until she’d shared her humanitarian views on the controversial topic of investing in Hong Kong’s industrial market in a less than professional manner. I was just trying to help.
Just trying to help. Like the time she and Roger built a treehouse in their front yard together as children. He had done most of the work since she wasn’t too good at hammers and nails and tool things. Although many of the boards hung crooked and Roger never finished the roof, he’d put his heart and soul into it for her. Countless nights he stayed up after dark, working by the light of the lantern balanced in the crook of a tree limb. And she loved it!
But in her ambition to help the neighbors experience the wealth and status of a treehouse, she caused the haven’s ruin. One of the Bulter boys she’d invited without Roger’s permission broke through the floor, causing Clara’s parents to deem the playhouse unsafe. That day Roger lost his $75 investment and his temper. Somehow, she’d never known that the labor of love was meant solely for her and Roger. She desperately wanted to mend the bond but didn’t know how.
Clara stopped walking and pulled out her phone from her tote purse. She stared into the brown-eyed reflection in the camera as tears gathered at the bases of her bottom eyelids and slipped off her eyelashes. You’re such a child, Clara, she told herself. A twenty-three-year-old child.
She angled the screen to see the likely damaged state of her hair and makeup from her hasty exit. Surprisingly intact, she thought. Right before she turned off her screen, she spotted someone on a bench in the reflection over her left shoulder. Huh. I must’ve missed him as I passed by, she thought. Shaking her head, Clara began walking away. But then she stopped and wrinkled her brow. No, I don’t feel like peopling right now. I don’t feel like it and I don’t want to. But for some reason she couldn’t move herself forward. You don’t even know him, she thought. In a way that was almost better. C’mon, really? She scolded herself as her eyes started fliting about again. Get a grip. Just go say hi or something, okay? Then your civic duty will be over.
“Fine,” she said under her breath. She was madder at how her brain kept extinguishing her fuming solitude than at the fact that a random man happened to be sitting on company property.
Clara made a show of checking her nonexistent watch and turning around. Maybe it would look like she’d lost track of time or something and had to return to work. Her high heels pattered on the concrete sidewalk as she advanced toward the man.
“Are you lost, sir?” Clara stared at the faded orange baseball cap atop his curly black hair. He didn’t respond but continued studying the crack in the sidewalk at his feet; his tennis shoes showed the kind of worn that matched the concrete in the sun. Age-spotted hands folded in their own embrace on his lap.
He doesn’t seem hostile. Maybe he’s just tired or lost, Clara thought. “Excuse me, sir?” Clara cleared her voice. A minute passed at least. Then the man craned his neck to one side and looked at her. A sob caught in her throat. It felt like he looked through her.
A depth of sadness hung in his pale grey eyes like a wind-ragged veil. She could almost reach out and touch it as he sat enveloped in its shroud.
He’s invisible, Clara thought. She tentatively sat down next to him and drank in the silence for a while.
Clara jumped at the sound of the man’s baritone voice. She had drifted away in her own thoughts, but he brought her back to the present. “I didn’t mean to scare you,” he said.
His tone sounds like tarnished silver, she thought. She gave a small smile. “It’s alright, I was just daydreaming.”
“Do that a lot, huh?” His unseeing eyes somehow saw into her soul. He shifted his upper body forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Me too.”
“I’m Clara.” Clara moved her hand in his direction but didn’t know whether to offer it for a handshake.
“I’m Deirdre. And it’s alright; even though I can’t see your hand, I felt you move it.” The blind man held out his hand, and Clara shook it.
She took her lunch out of her tote purse and began eating. After all, this was her lunch break. If Deirdre smelled her food, he didn’t let on. Clara quietly munched on her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She hadn’t had the time to put anything else together in her rush this morning. “How’s your day been?” She turned her body towards her new acquaintance to await his response.
Deirdre’s face showed slight surprise. He shook his shaggy head in disbelief and inhaled. “It’s been a long time since someone’s asked me that.” His jaw quivered with emotion, and he steadied himself before answering. Thirty seconds passed.
Tiny bubbles formed in Clara’s brain—the kind that reflect the orange and purple hues of the sunset in their minuscule existence.
“The world’s a big place, you know?” Deirdre scratched his whiskers and rubbed his chin. “It’s easy to lose yourself in it all.”
“That’s the truth,” Clara said.
“Sometimes it’s easier to be lost than to get found.” He sighed a hollow sigh and traced the vein on his left forearm from memory.
The bubbles in Clara’s head grew. “And sometimes you just want to fix it all.” Without thinking, she reached into her lunch and took out the brownie. “Here.”
Deirdre’s nostrils flared at the scent of the dark chocolate. “I can’t.” He dropped his head down, ashamed.
“No, please. I want you to have it.” Clara gently placed the treat into Deirdre’s open palm. Hesitantly, he cradled it and brought it up to his nose. He closed his pale eyes and breathed in the baked aroma of a home. He took a small bite.
Clara smiled and the bubbles doubled.
Then he took another bite, deftly scooping up the crumbs with bony fingers. A single tear escaped his clouded grey eye.
Insignificant? No. Maybe the world was too big, Clara thought. The bubbles formed clusters in her brain and multiplied. Maybe changing the big blue ball wasn’t the right way to go about things.
She looked at Deirdre, who was clearly enjoying the dessert. He finished it off, crumbs and all, then proceeded to lick his fingers. Clara could see him scouring his bright white teeth with his tongue for any remaining tastes of the chocolate decadence.
“Child?” Deirdre climbed into Clara’s soul. “Thank you.” For the first time throughout their encounter, he smiled.
Clara smiled too. The bubbles in her head threatened to leak out of her ears. No, Clara thought. The world was too big an object for change. She glanced at the melancholy looking man beside her. But people… people were a different story. They come in as many shapes and sizes as bubbles.
“You asked me how my day was? Today, I’ve been found.” Deirdre’s veil parted just enough for a little light to shine through.
What are we going to do tomorrow, Clara? Let’s try something different tomorrow, she thought. Let’s touch one life.