"Stopping," by Meredy Amyx






     Daniel didn't want to look where he was going, so he looked at the sidewalk instead.

     The walk from the parking lot led to a place where he didn't want to be. For a few more moments, before taking up again the sack of ordure that was his gainful employment, he could enjoy the freedom to dwell on the thoughts nearest his heart. His 17-year-old daughter's upcoming court appearance. His father's advancing Alzheimer's. His son's tuition and residence expenses at Stanford. His wife's layoff from her lucrative position in corporate HR. Legal fees for Brianna, home care for Dad, car for Michael, weekly therapy sessions for Wendy to help her recover from the shock to her professional identity.
     For Daniel: no exit.
     The job market being what it was, the merest twitch of restlessness could edge you nearer the chopping block next time senior management received new orders to cut heads.
     Daniel thought nobody at San Quentin could possibly spend more time thinking about escape than he did.
     Not a glance left or right: the shrubs, the ornamental borders, the feet of other captives, the occasional individual-serving-size plastic water bottle. Not a glance ahead: stark gray Building 9, one of a matched set of fifteen, filled with soul-dead automatons who sat all day moving virtual words and symbols around on screens and going to meetings where people importantly uttered the word "important" without cracking a smile. Concrete filled his field of vision.
     Across the concrete right in front of his toes trundled a little bug. It was just an ordinary standard-issue grayish-brown capsule-shaped multilegged little bug, trucking along at steady bug speed, full of purpose and direction.
     Daniel stopped.
     O enviable bug. What confidence, what surety of intent. You know where you're going. Do you not? Why else would you be traveling across this enormous expanse of solid gray inorganic substance when the place that you have just come from is filled with warm dark soil and plentiful greenery to delight the buggy appetite? Whatever kind of insectile decision-making process preceded this plan, whatever you must imagine is to be found on the other side, you know you're going there. The matter is settled.
     I could happily be you.
     Daniel fished in his pocket and produced his electronic badge. He stooped down and placed it in the bug's path. The little legs kept pumping. Gently, curious but not wanting to hurt the bug, he tipped it over on its back. The little legs kept pumping. He righted it again but set it down facing a different direction. The little legs kept pumping, and the bug was off again, marching resolutely toward an altogether different destination, far-off Building 14, which he might not reach in this lifetime or the next.
     The bug of enviable freedom could not choose to stop.
     Daniel smiled and was content. He stood up and raised his head. The shrubs along the sidewalk were in bloom.

Copyright © 2004 Meredy Amyx.
"Stopping" was completed on February 10, 2004. This story appeared in the April 2006 issue of WritersTalk, the newsletter of the South Bay Writers Club.