From the smooth surface of the tilted floor mirror came the regular dissatisfaction Damien had come to expect.
His short brown hair was thick, but there was never anything he was able to do with it. Again he rubbed down the rebel strands in his crown with his palm, but again it refused to bend at his will. His fingernails were too long, he noticed; he’d have to cut them soon today, or people might comment. To the left of his head in the reflection Damien could see the bay window overlooking his cluttered work desk.
Out the window stood a great old tulip tree in Damien’s side yard. Some of the ancient low branches that poked out into view at the top of the window were rotting out; some had already broken or weathered away. In addition, the aging tree had seen many years of aphids that had slowly eaten away at it. Many of its leaves were withered and spotted sickly brown as a result. Its tulips, however, remained unaffected and beautiful. Damien thought that the golden yellow and orange tulips kept the tree more alive in a way like a street musician can make the urban poor look romantic. Indeed, to the naked eye, the tulip looked magnificent from any considerable distance, the standout feature of his three-acre plot, and many a suburban family would note its splendor on its drive to work and school. Those tulips were truly something to be admired, everyone would say. The tree kept countless memories of Damien’s childhood, from failed attempts at tree houses by a clueless father to the time Damien’s youthful weight broke an entire limb and an ankle in full view of his extended family as they waited for a Thanksgiving dinner long past. Yet the old tree was hollowed out in various areas for birds seeking refuge from the blistering Midwest weather. It was dying, and it would only be around for a few more years, despite how gorgeous its tulips.
Damien drew his focus closer and looked at his work desk. Papers were piled around, strewn about everywhere, some finished, some nearly finished. Somewhere in the chaotic mess, there was a grand organization that only Damien could comprehend. His work ethic was furious, and despite his apparent lack of organization, he was able to able to churn through research and piece information together like no one else his advertising firm had ever seen. Damien was truly the top of his game. He graduated from Columbia University with high honors and a Master’s degree in strategic communication before settling in for sales work at Manitobas. Damien quickly scaled the corporate ladder working unheard-of hours and brownnosing the executive board. In his first year in the company he became the youngest person to win a Grand Clio advertising award for his print and design campaign for Kleenex brand. Damien, by most respects, was one of the hottest names in American advertising, and he was vocally expected by his peers to become a major innovator in the changing future of Internet advertising.
Damien looked back at himself in the mirror. A well shaped jaw line, bright blue eyes with abnormally long lashes, and baby smooth skin stared him back. He had a shining celebrity smile probably worth about three swooning compliments on any given weekend night. He was almost perfect in appearance. He glanced down at his Blackberry to view his schedule. Like any day, it was spilling with an impossible number of appointments, meetings, and interviews, enough to drive out any sane man from the business. But Damien was a different creature; his blood ran a bit different, or faster, than everyone else’s. He was a dynamo. Yes, unstoppable. He was so indispensable at Manitobas that the firm would have collapsed without his sole saving weight under it.
Damien narrowed his eyes and looked a little bit closer in the reflection, to his leather briefcase sitting rigidly beside his desk chair, poised for action. He had bought that suitcase on his last vacation, in Martinique when he was only 17. Had he known then that it was to be his last vacation in over a decade, he would have never purchased the suitcase at all, he told himself. He missed the freedom of bare feet on wet sand, of a soft breeze sent by some force greater than his Mazda’s air conditioner. He remembered his journals from his youth and his wide-eyed questions for a world of possibilities and opportunities, and he missed them. But there in the large, furnished room, there was little that could speak of these elusive wisps of memory. There were no paintings, no hangings on the wall at all, no window view of any landscape beyond his freshly-cut yard except that of an endless pattern of identical, stately houses.
In the reflection, Damien looked all around the rest of the room. It seemed empty, although it was neatly decorated with wood furniture and drawers. Suddenly, he smelled the mahogany, and it trapped him. The scent carried the breath from his lungs, and he felt highly claustrophobic even in the open room. He wanted out. Needed. The scent of mahogany left him. The smell of ocean spray splashed against his nostrils. There was nothing like it, no, nothing as beautiful. Damien darted his gaze in the reflection to his eyes and pinned it there. He knew he wasn’t cut out for this work; no one was. No man alive was prepared to handle the mountains of work he regularly buried his desk in every day. He was still young. He wondered how much longer he could actually continue like this…He felt as if he was eating his own life away obsessively. Damien returned his sight to the background, and he could see in vivid color the brown spots on his desk. They appeared to be growing. Damien remembered his journals from his youth again, and he remembered how wrong his life had become, how consumed upon itself it was. He was not a 15-hour workday, he swore, no. Or interviews, he was not the 50-some interviews that he needed to conduct over the course of the next two weeks for his current project. He was not his work. No man alive, he relinquished, can bury his desk in paperwork without keeping a piece of himself hidden, too. He needed out. He needed freedom, to show the world what lied beneath the accolades and the business cards. His briefcase fell from its upright position and crashed against the floor.
Damien jerked his eyes from the mirror, turned, and snapped back to attention. He walked into the bathroom and splashed a cupped handful of frigid water over his face. His eyes in the mirror had a new focus. He blinked twice, and stood up straight. There was work to be done. He confidently walked back from his bathroom to his desk chair, and he lifted and clicked open his briefcase. That work ethic was something to be admired, everyone would say.
The phone rang. Damien answered.
“Hi Ms. Enders, thanks for calling me back so quickly. Do you mind if I ask you some brief interview questions? It will only take a moment.”