Again and again and again the palpitations of the alarm started the rhythm of a new day. He shut it off, staring for a moment at the popcorn ceiling above the bed. Streaks of light cut across where he lay, slicing through the seams of the closed blinds over the window. Cars below his building already grew thick in the street ebbing towards the mechanical high tide.
He peeled the sheets off as he got out of bed, the hardwood floors cold on his bare feet. He stood and brought the sheets back up, tucking them on the sides of his bed before turning his pillow over on top of them. He leaned over and twisted the blinds open, looking at the traffic in the street below. No clouds hindered the orange hue of the morning. No snow yet, but there was frost on the rooftops of the buildings still hiding in the shadows.
Putting on his slippers, he turned and went through the short hall across the side of the living room to the kitchen. Turning on the near right burner on the stove, he filled the kettle with water placing it on top. For a moment, he looked at his empty apartment over the counter of his kitchen. Angled lines in the frames on the white wall. Three magazines on the glass coffee table. Three books on the side table stacked. The remote was still next to them. He walked over, placing the remote on the coffee table next to the magazines on the right.
While the water boiled, he shaved the almost day old stubble on his face. He rinsed, feeling the smooth skin staring into the mirror. He wiped down the counter in the bathroom, folding the towel on the lower rung, then took the towel off the top rung to wipe his face dry. He folded that one and returned it to its home.
Back in the kitchen, the water was boiling. He placed the dark roast coffee beans on the scale. Seventeen grams. He ground them, saturating the kitchen in the bittersweet aroma that hit the front of his brain when he inhaled as if he was already taking the first sip. He poured them into the press, shaking it to level the course grinds. He poured the kettle filling the press halfway. It sat for thirty seconds then he stirred and filled the rest. Four minutes, he checked his watch.
He poured a bowl of cereal and toasted two pieces of white bread. He ate standing in the kitchen. Four minutes. He pushed down the plunger of his press and poured his first cup of coffee. The initial sip was small, too hot for more. It was enough, though. The first warmth of the morning. He finished his toast with the coffee. He left the rest of the coffee in the press.
He showered. Seven minutes. He combed his hair back and dressed, buttoning his collared shirt while staring through the window of his bedroom. The sky blue now in the grinding progress of the morning. Long black socks and polished shoes. He wiped a scuff. He sat on his bed unlocking his briefcase on his lap. Everything was there. He shut it and sighed. Another day. He stood wiping the wrinkles where he had been sitting on the sheets. Then he put on a black tie as he continued to look out the window. The suit jacket after that. He checked his watch.
Through the kitchen for a brief stop to pour the rest of the coffee in his travel mug. More bitter. Perfect.
Then through the front door, into the hall of the apartment straight ahead from his corner of the building, to the elevator where he waited. There was no one else. Rarely was. Down to the lobby and out the front door. Careful down the steps still slick in the shade. His breath was thick in the morning air. He put on his gloves then turned right and walked two blocks through the coursing crowd. He took sips of coffee, checking his watch. High rises on the other side of the street.
At the corner, he went down the stairs swiping his metro card through the turnstiles, then more waiting. Inside the train, he sat among all the others, another figure hidden in the crowd. At his stop, he squeezed through the doors with the rest of the foot traffic holding his briefcase close to his side and coffee near his chest. Then up the stairs. The bus stop and even more waiting. He checked his watch.
When the bus arrived, he showed his pass to the driver and sat in the middle. Not as crowded as Fridays, not as empty as Tuesdays. It made two stops then a turn. Then one more stop before his. Once he was in front of his building, he got off, nearly finished with his coffee. He took the last few lukewarm sips as he walked towards the front doors through the concrete decorations. He checked his watch and slowed his pace. The bus left somewhere behind him.
Nearly at the door, he made a sharp right. Not too suddenly, natural and commonplace. He walked around the building to the other side. Others went past, their paths intersecting with his own, to their varying destinations. They didn't notice. They never did. It was just the morning commute.
He waited at the crosswalk on the other side. He checked his watch. The signal changed to the green walking man and he crossed. More high rises on both sides of the street. Benches close to another bus stop and the payphone. He checked his watch. He waited. He wished he had more coffee. Three minutes went by and he stood next to the payphone as people passed along the sidewalk looking down at their feet or towards where they had to be.
The payphone rang once and he picked up turning towards the machine looking at the numbers above the receiver. He said nothing. Something was said back, though. He nodded.
A few last syllables.
He hung up.
He sat down on the bench and took off his gloves so that he could check his map on his phone. He turned it to satellite view. He zoomed in. He zoomed out. He checked his watch. He got up checking the routes on the bus while he put his gloves back on. He sat back down and waited. Five minutes then the bus came. He got on board and showed his pass. It groaned as it left for the next stop. Another day.
Three stops. Then his. Then he waited for another bus. When it came, it took him to one more stop and one more bus that he took to one last place. Getting off he checked his watch. He crossed to the other side of the street. The sun a little higher. Still blue sky. Still cold. He sat at the bus stop at the other side but had no bus to take.
He looked back at the grocery store behind him. People came in and out. They didn't wait for the cars trying to cut across the front entrance. There was a homeless man at the side of the door. They didn't give him money. He looked down the sidewalk. It was less crowded than the street in front of his apartment. He checked his watch. Plenty of time. Too much time. He placed his empty travel mug in his briefcase to the side where it belonged.
Past noon now. Many buses. Many places. Different bodies, the same people.
He looked down the sidewalk again. There she was. Strawberry hair fluffed up by a morning spent with a curler in front of the mirror. A long coat over her blouse. Dark gray over turquoise. Blonde leather boots. She crossed over the parking lot and into the grocery store. He waited.
She came back out with a paper bag hanging in each hand. She turned back the way she came. He got up, holding his briefcase in his left hand close to his side. She crossed two streets in front of him. He followed. A face in faces. A body in the bodies.
She turned down an alley. He waited at the corner before entering. She went up the two steps to her side door of the building. The keys fumbled in her hand as she held the two bags in the other while she hummed to herself. He walked slow, another passer-by. She opened her door kicking it behind her as she went in. As she probably always did. The door didn't quite close all the way. As it probably never did.
He went up the two steps, pushing the door back in, then back to barely ajar once inside. Carpet in the hall, wonderful. A solid wall on his right, floral pictures in the frames. Light peach with a painted row of green leaves at waist height along the length of the wall. Maybe she even painted them herself. The hall was open to the left. A short entryway, then opening to the kitchen, then a post to the ceiling with an open top looking over into the kitchen from the living room. He took three steps and peered around the wall. Her back was turned, taking out the groceries on the far counter. Green apples, whole milk, sliced pepper jack cheese.
He walked across the hall behind her and made a right at the corner, sitting quietly on the couch against the wall. He couldn't see her from here. She couldn't see him. She stopped, remembering the door. She went over closing it all the way, putting her heavy coat on the hook on the wall. She continued, humming, placing things in the fridge and the cabinets above.
He unlocked his briefcase and took out what he had been carrying inside then placed the briefcase on the sofa. He stood and walked back into the hall. She kept taking out her groceries, back still turned. He walked up to her like he would greet her. She would have been surprised if he did. He didn't. He simply took the knife in his hand and slit her throat holding her mouth with the other. Muffled desperation. A red line on the light green kitchen wall.
He kept her turned away as she crumbled down to the floor. She was grabbing at her throat, trying to find her footing, losing all control. He kept his hand over her mouth as he moved down with her. Her breathing shorter with every breath until it stopped. He stood back up, looking down at her, tilting his head. Then he looked down at himself. Checked his gloves. Clean. Good. He took a paper towel from her roll and wiped the blood off his knife, then threw away the wadded up sheet in her trash bin.
He placed his knife back into his briefcase and locked it. He checked his gloves again. Still good. He walked out, shutting the door behind him, back into the alley, back into the crowd. He was nobody coming from nowhere going to no one cared.
He checked his watch, more waiting if he took the bus so he walked. He passed the grocery store and crossed back across the street. He passed the bus stop and kept walking. He had plenty of time. The crowd moved around him, past him, they didn't look. They had their own places to be. The cars moved by on the street, sometimes slower than he was walking. The people inside them kept looking at the signals hanging above the intersections.
He took the long way, allowing the day to pass around him. He checked his watch then he reached his building from the back side. He walked inside heading straight through for the door at the front end, through the concrete, to the bus stop. He sat and waited with the others. They didn't talk. He showed his pass to the driver when the bus arrived and took it through the three stops to the metro. Downstairs he used his pass, waited, boarded, went back to his street. He walked back to his apartment with the traffic.
Through the lobby of his building, up the elevator, he nodded to Mrs. Jones in the hall and she smiled back. He opened his apartment door and put his briefcase on his bed. He took off his suit jacket and shirt. He unlocked his briefcase and took out the knife, cleaning it in his kitchen sink. Just soap, there wasn't any blood save an almost unnoticeable streak from where he wiped. Paper towels to dry. He placed his knife back in his briefcase and took his travel mug out, washing it, placing it back in the cabinet.
He undressed the rest of the way and showered again. Warmth on a cold evening. He cooked chicken and rice and ate standing. He read on the couch then turned on his TV. The glow began to fill the room as it grew dark outside. He read more as it got late before heading to his room in for bed.
Then the alarm, the sunlight, the sheets, the coffee, the cereal, the shave, the shower, the suit, the briefcase, the travel mug. Down through the lobby. Outside chilly. Down the street, into the metro, up to the bus. Stopped at his building and he went around. Crossed the street. He checked his watch. The pay phone rang. He answered.
He sat at the bench and checked his map on the phone. Then he got up and looked at the bus routes. He waited. The bus came. He would board today. Tomorrow. Again and again and again the rhythm of a new day.