The Atheist at the Machine

I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be — in a better light than any light that ever shone — in a land no one can define or remember, only desire — and from forms divinely beautiful.
— Sir Edward Burne-Jones

The young man’s face glowed in the evening light. He worked next to the window, and management had removed the window-side cubicle walls to cultivate a “culture of openness.” They also forbade hats and sunglasses indoors. The young man shaded his eyes with his hand or else pretended to work. No one had pulled the blinds down yet, or even attempted it.

Outside, a few men in suits walked through the parking lot. He liked to watch their long, purple shadows trail behind them, slipping across cars, windshields, and the lines painted over the asphalt.

“How long have you been here?” a woman said behind him.

He turned around and blinked away the sun. Suzy squinted down at him. Henna-red hair framed her soft, jowly face. He saw her smile at the Christmas party last year, touching Martinson’s forearm with her free hand.

“Since seven,” he said. Suzy whistled.

“That’s dedication,” she said, her voice as flat and insipid as a gluten-free pancake. “You coming in tomorrow, too?”

“I expect so.”

She walked away scowling.

The sun set. When the young man put down his hand, everything in the world outside was tinted blue. A few stars shone near the roofline; he could see them if he rolled his chair to the window and looked up.

He watched light fade from the world. At seven, the parking lot lights came on and the stars disappeared. He drew one of the lights on a Post-It note.

The janitor vacuumed and turned off half of the overhead lights. The light in Suzy’s suite communicated a translucent, refrigerated glow to the rest of the office. Keys and keypads clacked all around him. The young man looked over and saw Martinson’s face, illuminated by a desk lamp and the bluish light of the screen.

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