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The Good Day

by Jeffrey Greene

He knew from the moment the alarm clock rang on Tuesday morning that there was something different in the air. Colors seemed more vivid, sounds not louder but crisper and cleaner. The smell of his wife’s skin, the fur of his cats, dew, earth, stone, all were enhanced to a pungency that almost had him believing spring had stolen a march on winter.

His breakfast, the same one he’d eaten for days on end, was a complex quintet of flavors he still lingered over, even as he parked his car at the subway commuter lot. It was seven a.m., not too cold and astonishingly clear. The leather handle of his briefcase creaked with an almost sentient poignancy, his overcoat enveloped him with a comforting rustle of wool, and his shoes struck the asphalt just so as he walked briskly to the escalators of the Bethesda Metro.

Often his spirits sank as he lost the daylight and was borne down into the caves of labor, but not today. He felt a childlike anticipation, never before experienced on a workday which, oddly enough, he saw reflected in the usually buttoned-up faces of his fellow riders. Some days, he thought, stand out from the usual crawl of the sun from one horizon to the other as heroes and martyrs do from the anonymous crowd, and no one knows why.

He glanced into the face of the man standing beside him on the subway platform and saw joy, simple and complete. “Good morning,” he heard himself say.

“Best morning,” the man replied with a grin.

“Yes, it is,” he said, nodding, “for some reason.”

The whoosh of air as the arriving train blew past them was cool and refreshing. The car wasn’t full, and he easily found a seat facing the direction of movement, since going backwards tended to make him queasy. If he’d entered the car with his eyes closed, and kept them closed, he wouldn’t have noticed anything different about his fellow riders. There was no more conversation than usual, very little laughter, and even that politely muted.

The difference was in the faces around him. The commuter’s standard blank-faced, emotional neutrality, that seeks neither to invite nor offend, had been replaced by thirty or so faces opening on the wonder of unexplained happiness like thirty separate species of flowers, so varied was the response of each person to the undifferentiated joy of the morning.

It would be a mistake, he felt, to try to understand or explain it. In a thousand years, wasn’t it mathematically probable that a small percentage of days would yield the precise combination of sunlight, air quality, temperature, and other less tangible factors, impossible to catalogue, much less synthesize, that had the power to evoke in human beings a temporary sense of well-being? One could do no better than accept it as the gift it was.

On the street, the feeling was akin to a national holiday, only better. Everyone made eye contact, a stranger’s friendly hand would reach out and pat his shoulder, street vendors gave money to panhandlers, people whistled, sang, waved and politely moved aside for others.

He knew that he would never again experience a day in his office like this one. It was as if the whole staff moved in a subtle but exquisitely timed choreography. In meetings, phone conversations, small talk, everything said was to the point and without wasted words, spoken with the utmost humor, tolerance and mutual respect. Department heads smilingly requested rather than demanded quota reports, subordinates accepted tasks with pleasure and attacked them with imagination and dispatch. Goals were met and exceeded, and with less effort and conflict, than at any time in his fifteen years with the company. The feeling in the office at five p.m. was more like that of a party reluctantly breaking up than the ravaged flight to the exits it usually was.

At home, his wife greeted him with freshly made martinis and a kiss that startled and aroused him. The cooking smells in the house were intoxicating, the cats vied for space on his lap, purring and swishing their tails, and he told his wife that she was the most beautiful barmaid in the world, and that he had never been happier in his entire life than he was at this moment, and he meant every word.

The dinner was one of her most ambitious and successful in memory, and he praised it between mouthfuls of seconds and thirds, and they drank an excellent Burgundy they’d been saving for a special occasion, even though it was just another Tuesday in late winter, albeit the best one ever.

And as they relished the dinner, the wine, and each other, the sunset faded to a meager glow on the horizon, and darkness slowly fell, and then, somehow, went on falling, without the mitigation of starlight, for there were no stars to be seen now, into a darkness more profound than anyone had ever experienced, so dark that light itself was extinguished.

The darkness emulsified into an icy current of the blackest ink — the purest distillation of midnight — and, too overwhelmed for fear or even surprise, he felt it seeping into every pore and orifice. It was as if the dining room and the table at which he and his wife sat had been a brightly-colored portrait of contented domesticity, now being rapidly painted over in black, a painless, impersonal effacement of their existence.

Just before the rising tide of nothingness breached the walls of his mind, he realized that he’d badly underestimated the rarity of this particular Tuesday, because it was now quite obvious that this best of all days was also the last.

Copyright © 2021 by Jeffrey Greene

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