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By Lauren Hannough-Bergmans and Nelanthi Hewa March 3, 2014

Deconstruction or: Caffeine-Driven Daydreams

Time to suspend your disbelief. Prepare to be thrown into the icy waters of our imagination without a life vest. Do not pass go, do not collect-

Back up. Do you know how many times you’ve used that phrase in one of your pieces? You don’t want your trademark to become a cliché.

But it’s effective. It gets the people going!

There you go again. So predictable.

It saves us from sounding passive. From falling victim to the regular dribble we hear all the time. It’s original. And sarcastic.

Okay, I relent. Pop culture references help the reader connect.

$200. Keep your glasses obsessively clean at all times, things might get a little messy. Do not forget to hit the on switch on your quaint little mind.

Don’t be abrasive. You sound like a condescending… Fill in the blanks. We don’t want to be censored.

You’re right, that would be unfortunate. Back to it.

It started with the fourth window-

Sounds like the fourth wall. Is that on purpose?

Minds work in mysterious ways.

Oh really, ambiguity? Because that hasn’t been overdone.

The mind is like an onion.

 Paraphrasing Shrek? That’s not groovy baby.

(Insert eye roll here)

You asked for it. Dirty.

Anyway, the point is, the human psyche is far too complex for any one person to understand. Mazes within mazes, all curling back into themselves.

Ooh! Write that down.

of a sterile office building which overlooked the bustling city. A city of wandering lanes and blind streets like a maze curling back into itself. A city full of the ignorant in freshly pressed suits and polished shoes like fish eyes. Above them all, the man casually lounged against the sturdy mahogany surface of his impressive desk.

Is that a phallic symbol? Because it seems like he’s compensating for something.

What? No. Well… That didn’t occur to me. You would say that.

That’s presumptuous.

Is it? Is it?

Oh stoppit you. Moving along.

A lit cigarette lay smouldering in his crystal ashtray, accompanied by a half-empty Old Fashioned. Yes, he felt the heavy weight of the overused. Yes, he was perhaps a stereotype. But it worked for him. He was a business worker, an accounts man. An average Joe accompanied by his cup of joe and Joe the janitor. Today, he knew he would succeed. He had climbed the social ladder, and now he stood at the head of the snake, looking down. He was ready to transcend his existence and paint a bloody sunset on the pavement below.

Oh, he’s back at it again.

We really can’t have that.

It would be such a waste.

Doesn’t he realize that you can’t escape cliché by jumping off a building? Might as well inscribe mundane on his gravestone and call it a day.

But he can’t. This is why we can’t trust him to do anything by himself.

This is how we make ourselves useful.

Morning. 9am. Tie on tight. Suit buttoned. Up the elevator, into his closed-door office. Nod to his secretary. One sugar, no cream, sweet but no remorse. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ears up for his morning meeting. Bear claw to go. Face the lackeys, dole out tasks, order and yell if necessary, keep them in line. So this is what it was like at the top. Time to tumble down. Sweet vertigo, I heed your siren call.

This is just plain tomfoolery.

How does he not appreciate the sublime glory of office work?

He dares not to bask in the strong glow of reverence and Xerox machines?

Some people just don’t appreciate how good they’ve got it.

Perspective, man.

His limbs moved as if through a scripted, pale copy of his life. For as long as he could remember he had felt this way. And yet every action he had taken to escape it had only drawn him closer to the brink, to the jumping-off point. X marks the spot. But every time he crouched down to retrieve the treasure, he was pulled back. Modern-day Tantalus. He knew somehow that he was forever doomed to morning coffees, views from the office, the faint dizziness that followed him everywhere to remind him that he was going in circles. He could no longer remember what it was like to be certain he was made of flesh and bone rather than malleable clay and changeable ink.

The unassuming scent of light perfume wafted towards him and a quiet voice broke through his musings, “Sir, there’s a call for you on 2.” A slight nod in reply.

“Hello? Yes, Mr. Smith.”

Really, Smith?

Yes, it’s generic I know, but it emphasizes the uniformity of the office, of his world.

That element might be why he keeps trying to escape.

For a guy who is seen as so successful he sure fails at this.

“Prague? Yes sir, right away sir.” Hurried packing, grabbing the shirts from his bottom drawer, freshly pressed, per his recommendations. Coat from the closet. Briefcase from the table by the door, complete with alphabetized papers, neatly in a row, bound by a hefty bulldog clip. Town car to the airport. First class on the plane. Stewardesses in short skirts, Hermes-type scarves tied tightly around their slender necks. Men’s eyes clinging to the backs of their legs, up to the napes of their necks, burrowing into their elasticized skin, gleaming from time abroad. He was surrounded by men in shiny black suits like exoskeletons. Beetles pinned and wriggling on a corkboard wall, condemned to repeat their feeble struggling until their inevitable expiration date. The real question was, was he Gregor Samsa if he was aware of the pin through his chest? He liked to think he wasn’t, but the line between man and beetle was getting blurred these days. Weeks. Time was blurring too.

Time to stop being coy. Time to give ‘em what they came for. No more introspection. Be blunt.

The point was, he was fucking terrified of being stuck to the board forever, surrounded by a thousand shiny suits just like his.


That was blunt. Normally he didn’t like to admit these things, even to himself. Especially to himself. The best thing to do, he’d convinced himself, was to enjoy the smell of coffee, the sound of typing, the pinching feel of neckties.

 That was strange.

We’ve been caught.

Red-handed it seems.

Hand in the cookie jar.

That of his feeble brain.

Or not so feeble, I guess.

Credit where credit is due. See? It’s a known fact that the author doesn’t create a protagonist, they merely get to know each other.

We really did create him in our image. Sneaky bastard.

Head of the tribe of fops.

The week in Prague fuzzed over in his mind like an old film, like he was caught ‘tween asleep and wake. Iron Gate Hotel, where every suite looks different. BROADWAY Rental Car, no hidden fees, everything out in the open, everything kosher, no ambiguities. The Alcron, advanced reservation required, someone had called on his behalf, everything planned out, set out, in advance. Welcome to the perfectly synchronized buffet of your life.

Some say that when you have insomnia you’re never really asleep and you’re never really awake. He gazed out the plane window on the way home, watched the ground below him slowly pull away. He found himself resenting the ground. It was reminiscent of his college sweetheart breaking things off, coy, a tad regretful, but not enough to relent. What was her name? She had all that red, curled hair and that freckle on her lower back. But her name. Something ordinary. Plain. A Jane Doe of a name. Come to think of it, her eyes looked like those of a startled doe right before the ATV collides with it. She’d been what you’d call impressionable. And yet only echoes remained. No sense of permanence. Fleeting at best.

I hate you.

Puns! Puns are great! I think I’m funny. But I’m not.

One crisp October football game, one late afternoon spent studying on the lush lawn. One maroon coloured sweater. One letterman jacket.

And there it was again: that longing feeling. Same feeling in the train. Same in the cabs. Same from the window of his kitchen. That incessant sensation he remembered having as a child, gazing up at the perfect rows of his mother’s best china. That need to hear it shatter. At some point, he’d become the china hidden behind the cupboards.

Next were the objects, those which mocked him with every glint off their sharp ends. The tip of his best pen. The sinister close to his tiepin. He pressed his index fingertip against it, curious to see what would happen. Oddly surprised when blood pooled on his finger and he felt its slow warm trail down to his wrist. It caught on the grooves formed by his tendons, and the force of his pulse from below his skin pushed it lower, leading it to meander down his forearm and fondle the edge of his rolled-up sleeve.

What the hell is this guy doing?

Who knows?

Existential crises for us all.

Back to the window. The sun, half-hidden behind the tall bank building down the block, spilled multi-colored fractals on his desk when it hit his crystal ashtray, and he tilted his head and gazed down at the pavement. That welcoming grey mass. That which beckoned him to become one. His beautiful temptress who was closer to getting him into bed than his secretary could ever hope to be. He trailed his fingers against the sun-warmed glass and curled them around the window’s latch. Easy peasy.

Morning. Warm coffee in hand, bear claw to go.

His fingers curled around the window’s latch and he leaned his hand against the glass. One gentle push and it swung open, letting the evening wind trail through his perfectly-coiffed hair as he leaned his head out and looked down. His palms were sweaty, but he was convinced it was from the anticipation of this moment, this apotheosis, instead of anxiety. One foot on the windowsill. Right foot, left foot. Mirror images. Baby steps. He was Dolokhov, head slung back and laughing over the city- and it figured that the one scene that he remembered from War and Peace was that moment, that moment of infinite possibilities that could be felt only in a state of drunken oblivion or, apparently, while standing on a windowsill. His inner Pierre was screaming at him, but there was no stopping now. He leaned forward, the top of his head grazing the upper part of the window. The calm breeze pushed its tentative fingers through his hair, its thin nails scraping at his scalp. A simple push. That would be all it would take. On the count of three. Now. He released his white-knuckled grip on the sill and launched himself out into the void. The abyss, but it wasn’t endless, it definitely had an end, and baby he was ready for it. The wind flung his suit jacket back and for the briefest of moments he felt like a veritable Superman. Down and down he went, windows flashing by, until the awning above the door appeared. Had he neglected to use enough upper arm strength to propel himself out? Had all those hours spent in the gym been for naught? But no, he cleared the obstacle and all that was left was the embrace of the dirty, roach-infested, cigarette-strewn sidewalk. He’d always been fastidious, and he had to admit the idea of such a grimy end was an ignominious one in his mind. Too late now. He closed his eyes, realized he was smiling faintly. This was just the way he had imagined and imagined and imagined it.

Does he really hate morning coffees and bear claws that much?

Actually, I think it's the oppressive, necessary conformity to society that's getting him down.

… Or maybe it's us?

He jerked up from his desk, hoarse whimpering bouncing around the empty air. When had he learned to sound so lost? He rubbed a shaking hand over twitching eyes, his mind still lingering on the vivid image of solid pavement racing towards him. He raked a trembling hand through his hair, pushing his hair up, leaving it standing on end. A low sigh staggered from his tight throat. Who the hell was messing with him, taunting him with these visions of eternal release? Or was it just his own sick mind that conjured up such possibilities? Such opportunities. It all seemed alien, foreign, wrong somehow. The constructs of the society he fit into working against him like white blood cells ejecting a disease from the host of corporate America. Perhaps they were the echoes of his body's screaming desire to slip the noose that was his cornflower blue tie.

His eyes settled on his cup of coffee—still warm—, and he wondered if it even mattered.

He turned back towards the computer gathering dust on his desk and opened the cover, sat staring at the clock screensaver mocking him, counting down to the ultimate deadline, a deadline that, despite his ever-increasing efforts, still eluded him. Defeat sounded like the sharp clacking of keyboard keys, like the sound of expensive cufflinks hitting the edges of obedient laptops. He ran his fingers over the Eldredge knot of his tie, tugged, and the sharp snick of tightening fabric filled his ears.

About the author

Lauren Hannough-Bergmans and Nelanthi Hewa: depravity and wit in one lovely package.


Thank you to Andrew Katz for his help and patience and to Kafka, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, and Palahniuk.

Credits for the image in this article goes to the creators of Mad Men (2007-2015).


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