By Ethan Mitchell
The first thing Mark noticed when he entered the room was how immaculate it was. The floor was an unbroken slab of polished white marble that shone from the sunlight that poured through the large windows that stretched across the left side of the room. The wall to the right of the entrance was lined with pristine black leather chairs that looked as if they had never before been touched. The far side of the room was dominated by a closed set of heavy wooden double-doors. Other than the chairs, the room was without any kind of furnishing or adornment. Silence enveloped the room like a shroud. Mark was alone. He slowly walked toward the row of chairs, conscious of the way that the clicking of his footsteps cut through the oppressive tranquility that surrounded him. He began to lower himself into the chair that was closest to the double-doors, stopped, thought for a few moments, and then moved to the chair in the centre of the row.
Mark sat motionless, breathing softly and slowly. He stared out the window, his eyes fixed on the spire of a church. His eyes were drawn to the small cross on the top of the spire, which stood in sharp contrast to the pale blue sheet that hung behind it. A sudden rush of doubtful apprehension surged through Mark. He closed his eyes and ran his hands through his hair, desperately trying to suppress the unwanted emotions. He knew that he was making the right decision. The logical decision. The decision that best stood up to a careful analysis of risks and rewards. Mark knew these things, but no matter how much he rationalized his decision, he could still feel the dread gripping his heart. He checked his watch. He had been too early, and was now condemned to agonize over his choice in a room that was mercilessly devoid of distraction. Mark wanted to scream. He wanted to gouge his eyes out and sink his teeth into the flesh of his hand. He wanted to do something that would distract him from his thoughts. Mark sat with his head in his hands and began to steady his breathing. He gradually managed to compose himself, sinking back into the chair.
Just when he managed to calm himself down, a high pitched ring pierced the calm. Mark pulled out his phone. He felt his carefully re-established composure begin to fray when he saw who was calling him. He thought briefly about letting the phone ring before reluctantly pressing the answer button. “Hi Jen,” he said, his voice sounding remarkably steady.
“You need to get over here,” she whispered angrily. Mark could hear voices in the background.
“I told you…” he began.
“I don’t care about your damned work thing!” She spat. “This is our brother!”
“I’m aware of that,” Mark said, his voice hardening.
“Then why aren’t you here?”
Mark stood up and began to pace around the room. “Because this is a major opportunity. Look, I’ve been working towards this for years and I can’t just ask them to reschedule.”
Jen swore. “Why don’t you try looking after someone other than yourself for just one day. Your brother is suffering! Ever since he was diagnosed the whole family’s been trying to comfort him, but you’re always too busy!”
“What do you want from me Jen? What’s going to change if I give up the best opportunity I’ve had since I started my career just to stand at my brother’s bedside? Is he going to be cured? Are the tumours going to spontaneously disappear? No matter what I do he’s going to die.” Mark was almost yelling now. His voice sounded strong but he was trembling and his eyes were brimming with tears. There was a long silence. Mark’s words seemed to hang in the air and he was sure that Jen was about to explode at him. They had had this conversation before, but he had never spoken so harshly. To Mark’s surprise, it was not a torrent of anger that came from the phone, but a tired sigh. “I’m sorry. I didn’t call you because I wanted to start a fight. It’s been difficult these last few weeks. I know that he’d really appreciate it if you came to see him, and I think it would be good for you too. This might be your last chance to talk to him. He gets worse every day. I know you guys weren’t that close. Not as close as we were. But he’s still family.”
Mark didn’t know what to say. His sister was the kind of person who thrived on conflict and would unleash an onslaught of fury at the slightest provocation. Her weary plea had caught him off guard. Mark walked over to the window. Below him sprawled the densely packed city. The sidewalks were crammed with people walking from place to place. Some people walked alone, barely acknowledging their fellow travellers. Others walked in groups, talking and listening and trying to stay together in the crowd. Cars filled the road, their horns blaring angrily. There was a wedding taking place at the church. The guests were milling around and chatting happily with each other. “Mark?” Jen said, interrupting his reverie.
“I…” Mark stammered. He felt paralyzed. The anxious doubt that he had tried so hard to suppress had taken hold of his body and his mind. He couldn’t summon his voice to reply. He couldn’t even form a coherent thought. He stood alone in the vast white room and felt lost. Maybe he had made a mistake. Could he really abandon his dying brother? Was his career really all that important in the grand scheme of things?
Mark opened his mouth as if to say something when he heard a soft creak to his right. He turned his head and saw that the double-doors had been opened and that a man was standing in the doorway. He was clean-shaven and had black hair which was cut short and neatly combed. He wore a spotless black suit that looked to be more expensive than Mark’s car. Around his left wrist was a beautiful silver watch. The man’s cold blue eyes haughtily surveyed Mark. “We’ll see you now.” He said, before turning and disappearing back behind the doors.
“Mark?” Jen asked again.
Mark closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.” He said. His voice had hardened again.
Jen began to say something, but was interrupted when Mark ended the call. He slid his phone back into his pocket and checked his reflection. After making sure he looked suitably composed, Mark followed the man through the doors.