He lay beneath that tree, he knew it.
Each day as he stepped into his car he could see it across the street; knotted, sprawling. Its roots spread like cracks in ice, reaching below, feeding. He could almost feel it.
"Hey, Ted! Ted hold up!" His name wasn't Ted, was it? "Yo, Ted! Come on man, you ignoring me or what?" He looked around anyway. His neighbor waved and shouted, the cycle repeating every few minutes. "Hey, Ted! Ted hold up!"
"Are...are you talking to me?" He squinted at the other man. Was that his neighbor? Did he have a neighbor? The wet smell of earth. He'd never seen this man before in his life. His tie pressed against his neck, tight. Tight. He couldn't breathe. "What do you want?" His voice cracked as he clawed at his throat.
The neighbor...Ted? Could that be his name too? No, not too. My name isn't Ted. Actual Ted half-jogged over and pointed to not Ted's garage. "Whoa there tiger. Just wanted to know if I could borrow your mower, mine's in the shop. Ran over a paving stone, heh. Damn near took a chunk outta myself in the process." Actual Ted looked him over. "Say, Ted, you don't look so good. You in the doghouse or something? Sleeping on the couch? Betty raking you over the coals?" They both laughed. It seemed the thing to do. "I hear ya, pal! The 'ol ball and chain has sure been on me over the state of this yard I can tell you that."
Not Ted laughed as he opened the door to his car. He kept laughing as he stepped in. He was still laughing as he pulled out of the driveway. The wind shook the leaves. The trunk groaned.
The door opened. He was at the office. People streamed inside, a constant flow swiping badges as the revolving doors spun. As he stepped in, a red light flashed. "Please do not block the doors." The line stopped. He blushed in embarrassment but the line didn't stop. It walked on, over, through. The doors swung in halting pirouettes. He found himself carried inside on the backs of the wave. The backs in black or dark blue, in pinstripe. The surging tsunami of business wear, off the rack and on sale, hanging ill from bodies bent and pliant. He could hear the water surge nearby, eating through the ground, turning the hillside to mud around him. He was sinking further, embraced by the cold ground, enveloped. He was drowning.
The monitors flickered. “Hey Ted, you see the game?” My name is not Ted. His neighbor smiled at him from the next cubicle, his headset mic lifted and his hand on the mute button. “It was a blowout, man. Could you believe that? After all that hype.” Not Ted wobbled on his feet, the sound of his own voice drowned out by the rustle of falling leaves. “I know, right? Hey man, are you ok?”
“I’m doing great, how can I assist you today?” The screen blurred, a muddy brown.
“I was told this would be enough. I am not going back to a customer with a no on this.” The voice on the other end of the phone cracked. The mud crept up his back, around his neck and into his ears, filling his mouth. He settled back.
The tree grew tall, it grew deep. Then one day it stopped growing. Its branches went bare, they grew hollow. The great trunk cracked and the tree fell.
“Do you have a supervisor?”
Photo credit to @pyemoney