I knew of nothing but the pain in my finger as I woke in darkness. I snapped on the bedside lamp. A string was tied tightly around the finger's base. With a pair of nail scissors I removed it and rushed to the bathroom to flex it under hot water.
As soon as my finger revived, I concluded that the string must have been a reminder. I had forgotten something. But what?
Perhaps it was something I should have remembered to do before I fell asleep. Was there something on the stove that had been left unattended and had boiled all night?
I entered the kitchen where the dog was sleeping. The dog raised its head to look at me before closing its eyes once more. He would have alerted me of any danger.
Obviously, the string was meant to remind me of something to be done immediately. It was meant to be the first thing I would notice.
I rushed from room to room scanning my surroundings. I probed beneath stacks of paper on the dining room table. Then it dawned on me that if it was something I had to remember upon waking, I would have written a note on the back of an envelope, as I normally do. It was something else entirely. I couldn't waste any more time here.
I dressed and left my second-floor apartment, nagged by the suspicion of what I had forgotten. As I descended the stairway to the landing, it occurred to me that it might already be too late. Stunned by the innumerable repercussions of my potential failure, I proceeded slowly and made no sound. The elderly woman in the apartment beneath me was in the landing retrieving her newspaper. She turned as I approached her from behind. Startled, she put her hand to her mouth. It seemed like her next reaction would be to scream. Instead she embraced me.
"It happens to the best of us, my dear," she crooned. Not wanting to reveal my confusion, I did not reply.
"Wait here a minute, I'll be right back." She entered her apartment and returned with an aluminum pan covered in foil.
"At least you won't have to worry about lunch this way," she said. She did not know how right she was. It was wonderfully reassuring to have lunch under control.
When I reached the car, I realized that it, whatever it was, might be associated with my vehicle. There was nothing in the back seat, so I looked in the trunk. It contained only a spare tire. Perplexed, I turned on the ignition and pulled out of the parking lot. I hoped that the act of driving would clear my head.
I tried to think of nothing. If I thought of nothing, then inadvertently it might pop into my mind. Perhaps my only problem was trying too hard.
It must be in the glove compartment. There must be something to renew, perhaps an expired registration. Maybe a check in an unopened envelope that I had neglected to cash. I flicked my eyes from side to side to watch the road and search the glove compartment simultaneously.
Suddenly I found myself screeching to a halt in front of a barricade of orange cones. A detour. Right in front of me, men were using jackhammers and I hadn't heard them.
I vowed to remain alert and followed the parade of cars to the left and over the hill. Street after street was blockaded entirely and the detour seemed to be taking me miles out of my way. This was not doing any good. I needed to pull over as soon as possible to conduct a more thorough investigation.
I turned left at the next corner, but rather than finding a place to park I found myself in a one-way, one-lane road leading to a corporate office building. Cars were beeping at me to keep moving. I paused near the guard station. Thankfully, this was where I worked. I had found my ID badge in the glove compartment. I swiped it and continued through.
I felt on the brink of a revelation. Perhaps I had come to the right place after all. Deep down, I knew what I was doing. The string was meant to remind me of something that needed to be done at work. After all, what could be more critical than something job-related?
I perused my calendar and wipe-board that were tattooed with post-its and half-faded scribbling. Nothing was scheduled for today. I read my e-mails but found no solutions there either.
I was determined. The answer was here, somewhere. No doubt the string was there to remind me of something outside the ordinary, something that would not be obvious. Since there were no deadlines to meet today, I would concentrate all my energies in finding it.
I opened my desk drawers and sorted through them. I removed the lids from the cardboard storage boxes in the corner and dumped the contents on the floor.
As I began to replace the files, folder by folder, page by page, a co-worker from a different department, someone I knew only vaguely, appeared in my doorway.
"At it again?" He spread his arms in mock dismay. "Need any help?" People passing in the corridor turned to look. Their faces revealed faint amusement at my plight.
"No, just doing some cleaning up." I forced a smile and tried to sound convincing. I wished he would refrain from calling attention to me. I did not want to appear like one who had forgotten something important, although I was increasingly convinced that I had. It was critical that I did not give the impression of being frazzled or disorganized. It would be detrimental to my performance evaluation. I was relieved when the man walked away.
Yet he had revealed something to me. I needed to be on my guard. I was a spectacle, cross-legged on the carpet, tearing through my own papers with criminal haste. I needed to act like everything was going smoothly for me. I returned to my ergonomic chair and attempted to do some work.
To my frustration, I was so distracted by what I had forgotten that my computer screen looked blank. For an hour I stared at it and clicked indiscriminately with my mouse. By now it was noon. I saw my co-workers heading to the cafeteria and was appreciative for the pot pie prepared by my neighbor. I would tell her so when I returned.
After thirty seconds in the microwave, my lunch was ready and I returned to my office. Between bites of food, I probed into my drawers. I searched through my recently opened documents and web browser history. Nothing. Nothing.
Shortly before two o'clock, I noticed that my co-workers were leaving their cubicles. In scattered packs, they were proceeding in the same direction, checking their watches. It was imperative that I join them.
I panicked. I had not recalled or accomplished the forgotten task. Now I had to leave my office where in a matter of minutes I might achieve success.
At the same time, my situation would be conspicuous if I remained behind.
I suspected that the others knew what it was and were reluctant to tell me, whether out of smugness or courtesy I could only guess. Either alternative had unimaginable implications.
I sat in the back row of the conference room and tried not to look anyone in the eyes. A few people spoke to me but as soon as their mouths stopped moving I realized that I had not heard a word and struggled to listen to the echoes of their voices in my mind. I said enough to satisfy them and was extremely grateful when the presentation began.
What on earth had I forgotten? One of the amplifiers was located above my seat. It was so loud that there was no way for me to focus on my dilemma.
During the closing remarks, I felt a fresh possibility opening before me. The room became hushed by the force of my conclusion. My logic had been errant from the start. If I had forgotten something at work, my boss most certainly would have reminded me of it. There certainly would have been something in my office that would have sparked my recollection. I had scoured every possible corner. It must be something that I was to do in my off-hours. When the meeting concluded, I rushed to my car.
On my commute, I encountered the same roadblocks once more, only they had moved a block south. As my mind raced ahead to consider where I would search when I returned home, I was glad that there was a detour today. This meant that I could follow a train of dozens of other cars without even remembering how to trace my accustomed route. Luck was finally coming my way.
At a busy intersection, I happened to glance to my right. It was a supermarket. I had an intuition that the supermarket was related to my quest.
Perhaps the string was merely a reminder of some food I needed to buy. No one would use a string for something significant.
Since I did not remember what food this could be, the solution was to walk through the store until I came upon it. I started in the frozen food section and systematically traced a path looping through every aisle.
In the bakery, I spotted the back of a man's head. He wore a blue baseball cap, turned backward, and a red sweatshirt. The shape of his back was familiar. Perhaps he was an old friend and I had forgotten his birthday.
There was no doubt by now that the string was not intended to remind me of something obvious. It was to remind me of something unusual, rare, something so far back in my memory that I would not encounter it in my everyday affairs.
But when the man turned around he had the face of a stranger. He passed me as though I were invisible. It seemed that he was likewise a ghost and that I could pass my hand through his body.
I decided that I would not make this trip for nothing. I purchased a banana and returned home.
At the landing was a pile of mail. I separated mine from my neighbor's. No bills for me. I rang her bell but she did not answer. After placing the empty aluminum pan on her doorstep, I climbed the stairs to my apartment.
Immediately I searched in my wastepaper basket for the cut piece of string. I found it as I had left it, so wispy and insubstantial that it had dropped to the bottom. Yet it was a broken noose that I could not escape.
I have no choice but to retie it on my finger and try again tomorrow.
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