Death and Taxes

Death and Taxes

A Story by revenant21

My baby, really. One of my best stories, I think.




Albert Banal straightened his black tie once more in the hall mirror before pulling his left arm into the sleeve of his low-hemmed gray peacoat. Once his eyes saw the hands straighten the shoulders to even near-perfect right angles, the waist of his pants pulled neither too high nor hanging too low, the leather shoes without any scuffs, he felt adequate enough to leave his small, angular apartment . Albert walked stiffly past his sleek black car on the way to the bus stop several blocks from his apartment complex. He ignored the faces that swam in, out, and through his periphery (a technique learned by many other New Yorkers), his mind occupying itself with numbers, finding them in the number of steps he made, the number of seconds between the dynamic change from red to green on a stop light, in the number of car horns he heard in an interval of a few seconds. Numbers occupied the majority of Albert’s life.

            Turning his wrist, Albert checked the time on his watch, the standard silver wristwatch catching the light for a moment. It was seven thirty-four and fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine… At the exact moment the hand of Albert’s watch fell over the seven thirty-five mark, the airbrakes of a bus hissed in front of him. Six others got on with him, by his count. There were thirty seats, each seat holding two people, a capacity of sixty seated passengers. There were now twenty-one people (twenty-two, including himself) in seats; the bus was approximately seventy percent full. Albert took a seat in the middle of the bus, neither in the back nor front. He quietly rode the bus, ignoring most of the people around him, calculating the sum and products of the lights they passed under, dividing by the number of red lights that stopped them on the journey. Numbers swam through Albert’s mind, surrounding him and filling his mouth, nose and ears, but never drowning him. Numbers were simply his thing. Numbers were his friends.

            The bus breathed to a soft halt and Albert exited and turned on the heel of his perfectly polished leather shoes to face the direction of his office. Again, as he walked, he passed the time by counting steps, multiplying them, dividing them. The steady flow of New Yorkers on their way to their respective places of work crawled about the city like worker-ants, a black-suited swarm of almost identical minds and bodies crawling between, through and over one another to get to the next bus, to beat the clock. Albert, however, never had to rush or crawl over people: it was all a simple matter of calculation and timing. There was truly no viable excuse for lateness.

            Albert arrived at his office and looked the tall glass building up and down: the New York station for the Internal Revenue Service. Albert sighed contentedly and pushed the glass front door open and breathed in the scent of numerals, tax returns and audit files and headed for the elevator. The elevator was chromed, with a plain gray carpet, and empty besides Albert. He, of course, preferred it that way. He had been alone most of his life and had now become quite accustomed to it. Aloneness, like numbers, had become a part of what made him. One day, he was sure, he might feel that he would want to find someone to be close to, to talk with into the latest of late hours lit by a single bedside lamp. But for now he had a career and a schedule to stick to. There wasn’t very much time for that in the first place. The elevator trudged slowly upward, the light above the door highlighting the floor levels as it passed them before stopping at Albert’s floor.

            The doors began to slide open, and he waited until they were completely open before moving to leave the elevator compartment. His coat folded neatly over one arm, his classical briefcase held in the other hand, Albert began to walk through the open area so cluttered with the cubicles of colleagues and subordinates to his own office, only nodding politely or giving an awkward smile of acknowledgement to those whom he passed on his way. Employees were quite sparse at this time of the morning, and Albert was even surprised at the amount that was present: he was normally (essentially) the only person on his floor until around eight-thirty or nine. As he stepped into his office he could hear the clock ticking quietly and importantly on his perfectly finished mahogany desk. He hung his coat up on the wall and swung his briefcase onto the desk beside the computer monitor. Sitting down, he leaned back in his chair and sighed deeply before leaning forward and turning the computer on for the day’s work. As soon as he could enter his username and password, Albert had pulled up a spreadsheet document and began entering numbers into the columns with accuracy at almost no effort. His eyes, an even brown like black coffee, scanned each line and entered the numbers without looking at the keyboard, without needing to. He nodded politely when his assistant popped her head in to inform him that she was present and apologized for being a little late"traffic was terrible. Once Albert had finished filling the column of general numbers, he slid open another file and set to work on entering this one into the spreadsheet as well, as deftly and quickly as the last. He finished the second and moved to the third, and then the fourth, until he had finished entering in the numbers (he found this particularly boring), which meant (Thank God, he thought) that he could get to the less-tedious task of calculations. Five hundred and sixty-two rows, three-thousand three-hundred and seventy-two columns, seven-thousand eight-hundred dividends and divisors and fifteen-thousand six-hundred and ninety-two products later, Albert pushed his chair away from his desk and decided to congratulate himself with a cup of coffee from the staff room.

            Albert took the approximately thirty-seven steps to reach the staff room and went straight to the coffeemaker, not making small talk with any of those around him. He slid a styrofoam cup from the top of a stack of other cups and placed it on the grille of the basin below the spout. He held the switch down with one hand, watching the liquid flow into the cup and swirl there calmly, steaming. He took a plastic lid for the cup and took one shallow sip before placing the lid onto the coffee. Black. Perfect.

            After finishing the remaining portion of the spreadsheet, Albert saved the file and printed it out, having the thick stack of numbers in a manila folder and in his assistant’s hands before paper had time to cool. He tilted his coffee cup all the way back and drained the last that he could without swallowing the coarse dregs and threw the cup away before pulling another file from the top of his IN box and setting to work once again. Albert sighed with satisfaction as he sat there, alone, in his office calculating the average yearly incomes and expenditures with and without taxes removed and then comparing the result to the actual income and expenditures, corroborating receipts and sales transactions. He could do the calculations quickly and almost without any thought whatsoever, and by lunch time he had had four files closed and stamped with a red, block-lettered AUDIT, which would be distributed among those in the cubicles. Having accomplished very much, Albert lifted his coat off of the rack on the wall adjacent to his desk, locked his office door behind him and informed his assistant that he was going out to lunch for a little while. He did not wait for her response, but simply continued his calculated march to the elevator and through the lobby onto the streets to find a café or small diner to have lunch in.

* * *

            Albert chewed and swallowed the last bit of his toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich and lifted his cup to his mouth to take a deep swig of the black coffee within, and over the brim of his cup, his eyes focused on an image ahead of him. Across the café, there was a woman, a woman whom he had seen there almost every time he came here to eat, sitting alone and"every time"either reading or writing. She seemed around his age, and attractive enough, in his opinion. He wondered why he had never really noticed her before. Yes, he had seen her there before but he had never really noticed her. For a moment, only a moment, as Albert sat drinking the last of his coffee, he saw himself getting up and swaggering over to say hello to the woman, beginning with some witty greeting, which she would laugh at, revealing perfectly shaped teeth in the arpeggio of the laughter. Smiling to himself, he tossed the coffee cup aside carelessly, and stood to walk towards her table. He wondered, deeply, though, in the very corners of the basements of his mind, what about this particular day had made him notice and invigorate him with such self-confidence. He had just about reached her table when his watch starting emitting a very shrill, irritating beep, and Albert’s smile faded slowly. Out of time, for now. He turned very slowly on his heel and opened the door to leave. Strangely though, his self confidence was in no way injured. Oh well, he thought, Perhaps I’ll try another day. He exited the café with an uncharacteristic, albeit watered-down now, swagger and made off for his office, still smiling subtly to himself.

* * *

            As he entered his office, he gave his assistant a genuine smile, which she returned but with an air of something else. This, however, he ignored, walking right into his office prepared to complete a review of every tax file within the entirety of the IRS.  He sat down heavily in his chair and flipped open a file, scanning the first few pages briefly before cutting his eyes up and over to the face of the clock on his desk, noticing a new file in the IN box. This file was not near as thick as the other tax files, and it was a baby-blue, rather than the manila used with most of the other files in the archives. He pulled the file from the sleek black tray and realized what was in the baby-blue folder, surely received by his assistant via-fax and delivered to the ever-filling IN box. He nervously thumbed the folder, opening it slightly and then closing it again. He swiveled his chair around to face the window and he took a deep breath, shaky and catching. Albert bit his lip tightly and opened the folder quickly to prevent himself from avoiding it again. He read the papers carefully.

            Much of it was hard to comprehend, even for his intellectually-advanced mind. It was masked heavily with medical terminology that he did not completely understand, but the doctor had, thankfully, included graphs and levels, and he could read numbers perfectly fine. The numbers did not sugar-coat it for him, did not try to lower it slowly into his line of sight; they told the plain truth, whole and upright. His eyes scanned each page, his interest waning with each depleted number, each lost cell. Biopsy results, color-maps of his body, percentages" decimals, numbers, Albert’s only solace, lashed out at him from the crisp, still-warm sheets of paper. Each time he turned a page, the vital numbers had decreased, by hundredths, by tenths, tens, good Lord, could they go into the negatives? Albert closed the folder and removed his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose in his fingers, squeezing his eyes shut. He sat like this for several moments, and when he looked up, the coffee-black eyes were blank and unseeing. He thought of all he hadn’t done, all he hadn’t experienced, for he felt there was no time for foolishness when one was trying to build a career. He wondered how he himself could have been so obtuse as to forget about something so omniscient and controlling as life itself. Perhaps he truly was an optimist, when push came to shove. He felt certain that some day, when he had climbed his way up the ladder and finally attained his goals, that he would be able to experience the world, taste other cultures, drink until he could not remember, meet people, love someone he could not forget… But none of it was certain now, no more certain than a coin landing on heads or tails. No, for Albert Banal, nothing was certain now but Death and Taxes.

© 2013 revenant21

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Added on May 19, 2013
Last Updated on June 4, 2013

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