The allergens invaded Mark’s immune system with every sniff of air. The trees finally covered their naked branches. The birds chirped, the dogs barked, and the bugs swarmed. Engines purred and terrible music exploded down the streets.
The first warm day of the year.
It was always Mark’s favorite.
But today he spent the day surrounded by the four gray walls of his cubicle.
Stuck in an office building.
Pretending to care about work that didn’t matter.
He couldn’t even enjoy a spontaneous nice day without giving two weeks’ advance notice to some old white guy.
Mark meant his boss.
Mark stared at a blank computer screen as powerful ultraviolet rays beat through the glass windows behind him and heated his neck. Begging him to come outside.
“We need the reports by the end of day,” Dan said.
Cubicles needed doors.
“Will do, boss!”
Mark put on a fake grin.
When Dan and his oversized white shirt and parachute dress pants left, so did Mark’s smile.
Mark looked outside the window behind him at the perfect day.
It had been an especially harsh winter.
Walking from his apartment to his car … all thirty feet … left any exposed skin singed from the dead, dry winter breeze. Most nights he’d stay inside and watch movies. The same movies Mark always watched. He’d wrap himself in three blankets, sweatpants, a hoodie, and, if Mark were lucky, a woman.
Mark never got lucky.
On weekends, he’d get drunk for warmth and hibernate in bed.
Mark couldn’t understand what made people decide to live in Arctic climates.
Or how he got stuck in one.
That’s what Mark was told when he moved to New York.
Mark learned that New York City was the only place in the world where if you worked hard, sacrficed, and had enough talent, then maybe, just maybe, someone would be kind enough to push you in front of a moving subway.
Only the weather was more frigid than the people.
Once that first wintry day arrived, it was impossible to feel warm until the season changed.
No matter how many layers or how high the heat is cranked up.
In the month of January, the temperature didn’t reach twenty degrees. Temps below twenty friggin’ degrees for an entire fucking month.
Mark would layer up for the two second journey to his car, then sweat his ass off in the sauna that his car turned into as the heaters defrosted the goddamn windows. He’d drive to work soaked, never finding the right combination of heat and airflow during his commute.
Today marked the end of that pain.
But Mark couldn’t enjoy it.
His boss imposed strict deadlines that forced Mark indoors. He barely made enough cash to make ends meet, slaving over redundant reports in a broken chair under artificial lights.
No air conditioning until July, either.
The boss needed to save money on the energy bill.
Mark opened some reports and did five minutes’ worth of solid work before scrolling social media on his phone. Avoiding the work that prevented him from getting the Vitamin D, which he needed to stay alive. He studied pictures of friends and strangers online, missing the days when photos didn’t always come out perfect. Silly faces or the camera catching someone at the exact right time to make them look like a freak.
The imperfections made life beautiful.
At least they used to.
Or maybe that’s what getting old was.
Swearing things were better before.
“Everyone is having the fake time of their lives, finding their third soulmate, traveling the world on borrowed time and credit lines … and here I am where eight months out of the year the weather is unlivable,” Mark thought.
He hadn’t been on a date in months.
There was no time.
Living was expensive.
And despite full-time work, Mark still had insurmountable debt.
It all made him on edge.
Mark needed more coffee.
Before he could decide on another coffee or not, his boss approached his desk again. “Mark, one last thing before lunch…”
The asshole once again entered his cube without asking.
“… thanks for all your hard work. We had a good year. A great year. One of the best in our history, in fact. We wanted to surprise the team with a little spring bonus.”
Dan handed him an envelope.
Then he popped out of Mark’s space without another word.
Mark tore it open when Dan was far enough away that he wouldn’t hear the ripping of the envelope.
Inside was a check for a thousand dollars.
Mark smiled a genuine smile.
The work wasn’t that bad.
“I’m dramatic,” Mark thought.
Mark got sentimental about the change of the seasons. He hated winter so much that the first sight of spring brought the animal in him, he rationalized to himself. Sure, he felt underappreciated at work. Sometimes. Everyone does, from time to time.
It was natural.
Mark worked hard.
Today was the exception.
His boss wasn’t the worst. Mark served horrible bosses before. Dan wasn’t quite awful. He could be a prick, but what boss wasn’t?
Mark looked at the check one more time before placing it back in its envelope. “Hard work pays off. Most people get salaries, and that was it,” he thought.
Mark felt the sun burn his skin on his way for another coffee. Mark needed fuel to finish his reports to keep the checks rolling in.
The sweet aroma of a fresh hazelnut coffee leaked into the office. It inspired a few colleagues to brew cups of their own.
Mark looked back outside at the perfect day.
It was the first nice day of the year.
Not the only.
Mark returned to his desk and finished his reports. By the time he left the office, the sun had laid to rest.