Michael: Not-Knowing and Knowledge
Michael sat in the tiny cube-like office, waiting, and gazing idly at the stack of magazines beside him. It was a curious assortment to accompany the front desk of a mechanics shop. There were various fashion magazines, a tabloid or two and, oddly enough, a magazine whose cover boasted of good old-fashioned cooking to warm up the winter months. It was not even winter.
Michael would have imagined there would be something to do with cars, or some kind of vehicle. He would have expected an image of a monster truck or some desperately flexing man trying to prove to the world his ultra-masculinity. Instead, Michael flipped through a few pages which presented conflicting arguments as to “who wore it best” and told one how to get their lashes just right. This was useless, of course (Michael’s lashes were already perfect, as he joked to himself; he thought the joke was quite funny), but it passed the time. And besides, Michael did not care much for cars either.
There was another thing accomplished effectively by the magazine, and that was distraction. As Michael closed the cover, he was struck once more by the thing which was not yet a thing (and might not be) from which he wanted to be distracted. To his right was the garage with cars suspended towards the ceiling and workers gazing up at their great metal underbellies. The clear glass of the windows made the office feel a little like an aquarium floating awkwardly in the midst of a teeming metal sea. To his left was a busy street, with cars which were not suspended in air, but rather firmly planted on the pavement, as cars were meant to be. It was where Michael wanted to be himself.
He hadn’t told Pam about the problem, because there might not be a problem at all and it was no use worrying her. It had started only a couple days before (Friday of the previous week, to be exact): a little noise, admittedly, but one which seemed to say that all was not quite right. Each time that Michael heard it, he felt a barely perceptible knot of tension in his stomach: All is not right. The very fact of not knowing what was not right was what made him so keen to seek distraction, in that interim between not-knowing, and (hopefully) knowledge.
The real truth was that Pam, with her straightforward, practical manner and simple desire for his presence, would probably not be worried at all. It was really the thought of articulation that prevented him from telling her. Speaking before it was necessary- saying those words (I don’t know)– was precisely what he wanted to avoid. Just then, the mechanic emerged into the fishbowl and Michael stood up, dropping the fashion magazine with the air of a guilty person caught in the act of a poorly executed crime. He pushed his floppy brown hair away from his face and looked at the mechanic earnestly.
“It’s nothing really,” the mechanic said, and as he went on to detail the minor (and irrelevant) source of the noise, Michael forgot to feel stupid and was instead elated, discharged of his uncertainty.
The worries were severed from his mind so abruptly that the idea of their having been so tormenting just moments before was almost unfathomable. But it was so. And the lightness of being experienced by Michael as he strode to his car (and decided that it was a very, very nice car after all) was wonderful indeed.
As he paused by the front window, about to get in, he saw someone was watching him from behind. For a moment they both peered at one another, Michael through the reflection of the tinted window and the man from where he stood beside another car. They both imagined themselves to be remarkably stealthy in their observation of the other’s features, without detection. But Michael saw nothing he recognized. This strange man on the other hand, leapt forward with a quick step and said, “Michael!”
As Michael turned around, his face- with blue eyes behind glasses and rather prominent chin- seemed to confirm the man in his identification of Michael.
“You don’t remember me, I suppose,” he said, and though Michael did not, he felt himself helplessly scrambling for remembrance. “It’s been too long,” he added, and this was what did it.
‘It starts with an E,’ Michael thought to himself, and a moment later, he exclaimed, “Everett!”
Everett beamed and nodded. “Good on you. I suppose I look a lot different than when you last saw me.” Michael could not remember when he had last seen Everett, but he ascertained that he had still been a child during that meeting. Everett had been a child as well, with full, flushed cheeks, messy curls and pudgy dimpled hands. He was slimmer now, closer to gaunt than to round, and with hair neatly cropped and a briefcase slung over his shoulder. Yet the same boy remained within his eyes and now that the memories of card games and recess and school presentations were all coming back to him, Michael knew decidedly that this was the same Everett he had known.
“I guess that means I look the same,” Michael joked.
“Oh no, you’ve changed a lot too. It took me a minute to recognize you.”
They talked for nearly ten minutes, during which Everett spoke with a joy in his eyes of the two (presumably curly-headed) boys who were his own, and Michael spoke of Pam, becoming keenly conscious of the strength of his devotion when he spoke about her and imagined her the way she had been in his office just that afternoon. Then they spoke of the way the neighbourhood had changed (though neither of them lived there now) and the way it had used to be, with the old buildings and formerly empty field and all those sweet untouched memories, especially the sunken pond: frozen in the winter, littered with red and gold leaves in the fall and sparkling with sun in the spring and summer.
At last they realized they were standing in a dim and noisy garage and the sun was gone outside and they both had places to be.
“It was great to run into you,” Everett said, and Michael too felt that the whole ordeal of making his way and waiting in that sordid garage had been worthwhile, for those ten minutes alone. He did not say all this to Everett, but nodded enthusiastically and thought that though both of them had changed, they were still altogether the same. “I wonder when we’ll see each other again,” Everett said idly.
In response, Michael said, “I don’t know,” and the words came as naturally and comfortably as if they had been any other honest words. “I hope soon.” The two men shook hands and Michael drove away in his silent car to his home, and to Pam who was waiting.