Author: Michael Dempsey

Peter, standing in the bathroom, heard a voice crackle over the intercom. “Mr. Walker, you have five minutes to leave your apartment. If you go on your own volition, you can remain free. If you do not, we will forcibly arrest you and take you to the authorities.”

Peter froze. Who was that? What was she talking about? He rinsed his hands and looked up at the bathroom mirror. He smiled, and wished that his smile was more symmetrical. It had always bothered him. He tried smiling again, but it didn’t improve.

The voice from the intercom spoke again. “Four minutes and thirty seconds.”

This is crazy, Peter thought. I haven’t done anything. He started pacing around his studio apartment. Someone had said that walking was good for thinking, so Peter walked when trying to concentrate.

“Four minutes.”

Peter tried to think of his worst moments. There was a time that he had pulled a chair out from under a classmate in elementary school. She ended up breaking her wrist. His shoulders tensed as he remembered it.

He stopped in front of the living room mirror and smiled. He shook his head at how uneven the smile still was and resumed walking.

What else? Just last week he had taken credit for someone else’s work. A colleague of his said they should start a subscription service with monthly billing and make it complicated to unsubscribe. The department head couldn’t hear her so Peter repeated the idea. The boss thought it was Peter’s suggestion and loved it. Peter was embarrassed about the confusion but was happy that the boss was pleased with him.

“Three minutes.”

Peter kept pacing. He noticed some grime on the floor and wondered when he had last mopped. Months, probably. He was disappointed in himself. His mom had always kept the floors clean when he was a kid. The last time he had seen her was three months before she died. She talked about how cute he had been as a boy, especially when he played Superman in the treehouse. She told him how much she loved being his mother. He just nodded and smiled, wondering how his smile looked.

Peter stopped in front of the mirror again and asked himself why he didn’t tell her how it felt to be her son. He was surprised to see a tear roll down his cheek.

He turned to the closet and packed a small bag with a few sets of clothes. He walked out as he heard the voice from the intercom say, “One minute.”

A woman wearing all white greeted him in the lobby. “Mr. Walker, thank you for complying. This was just a drill. You may return to your room.”

Peter shook his head. “You were right, I’m guilty. I always have been. Take me wherever you like.” Behind the woman was a large mirror. Peter smiled and looked at his reflection as the woman led him outside. Better, he thought, as he kept smiling.