Behind Walls

By GABRIELLE LEE

The proper term is “government facility,” but it feels like an old university most of the time. Asbestos in the ceilings, paint fresh from 1979. Fluorescent lighting, emergency signage, old handset telephones on the wall in every floor. My role here, in a place where the best of the best tackle noble, courageous goals—the taking of soil samples from Mars and the landing of spacecrafts on comets—is comparatively small. The comforting routine of support, set-up, clean-up; prepare, take care.


At 4:30 in the afternoon, I’m scanning a few papers at the multi-functional device (apparently they aren’t called “copiers” anymore) by the window, and I pause to watch the sun die between the mountains. It glows in a way that government facilities shouldn’t glow, swallowing the signs of smog so beautifully that for a moment I forget about climate change, and I forget about space, and I let the warmth thaw my air-conditioned-in-the-middle-of-December hands through the glass. There are deer, somewhere around here, outside and a few floors below, nestling into their grassy beds for the night. Dozens, maybe hundreds of them, and their biggest (but rare) threat is mountain lions. But everything else out on the road there is still, and the only sound I hear here is the steady whir of the multi-functional device and the occasional cheap-motel electrical flicker of the fluorescent lights above me. This government facility gives me more time off than my husband’s private company; they feed me, they let me earn healthcare and retirement and send me an ornament during Christmas; I am taken care of, tucked neatly away in my cubicle in my office in a building in the foothills in California. Looking out the window, as the sun has died down so much now that the mountains have captured that orange glow for themselves, I can ignore the North Korean threats and ISIS and the school shootings and the series of Malaysian plane crashes and bask in the lie that my American dream—my quiet, relatively unimportant, beautifully routine existence—is the only thing in the universe that matters.

 

Gabrielle Lee’s work has appeared in SwitchbackCardinal Sins, and other journals, and has been anthologized in Answers I’ll Accept: Personal Essays about Looking for Love Online.
Photo by Flickr Creative Commons user Chuck Coker.

Behind Walls

Related Posts

Kreptitz Cliff

Untitled (Letter to Rügen)

GUNTHER GELTINGER
The fields of flint rock bordered by the moors struck her as being from another hemisphere; on the Zicker Mountains she felt as if she were in Scotland; and the Kreptitz Cliff, with its windblown hawthorn bushes and allure for amber seekers, reminded her of a secluded coast in New Zealand, where she's never been.

A field under clear skies

Open Season

LAURA LAING
The rifle is heavy and hard in my arms, the butt jammed up into my right shoulder, just like Lee showed me. Peering down the nose of the gun, I can see the line of targets—coffee cans, plastic milk jugs, and Coke cans—lined up like birds on a fence.

owl graffiti

Histories

SARAH DUNPHY-LELII
I once dated a bull rider, which is very interesting, I still find. He was at the time no longer a bull rider, he had rather been one in his youth, but this lingered, as you might expect.