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“Not an exit or entrance.” 


It taunts me - the cryptic sign posted directly in my line of vision. A lone focal point affixed to a connecting door in the otherwise-unremarkable little office I’ve just been issued that has, like me, seen better days.


Thus ends my epic fall down the corporate ladder. Can’t really complain, especially given the definitive final push was self-inflicted, thanks to a few ill-timed (but oh-so-satisfying) parting comments lobbed in the direction of a sadistic and unforgiving CEO.


My future thus freed up, I’d struck out in search of a kinder, simpler workplace, one where I could “make an impact,” and “bring my seasoned leadership skills to bear on an organization ready for a new direction,” and other annoyingly aspirational assertions the likes of which I made to myself and a long line of prospective employers; euphemisms all. Translation: Please hire me. I’m desperate, and I will try really, really hard not to screw up again. No, really, I’m fine. 


Lower stress, shorter commute, diminished expectations (my own and others’) – these are the selling points that led me here. Discovering that “here” is a virtual time-warp back to mid-prior century adds a bit of refreshing novelty. I see the culture has managed to avoid anything remotely hinting of innovation for decades, the legacy of a state bureaucracy steeped in conformity and clock-punching. 


No kidding - there’s an actual time clock with time cards in the hallway, and a spinning Rolodex right there on my desk where I’d expected a computer to be. Within minutes of arriving, I’m startled to recognize the forgotten, percussive clack-clack of typewriter keys coming from the next-door office. How do they still find supplies for these things? 


“Not an exit or entrance,” the sign across from me proclaims. I smile despite my sinking spirits; did someone really think “closet” too obvious a term? Or was the language a nod to caution – a careful delineating of options for travelers to consider, sort and discard? Otherwise, I suppose someone might mistake this for passage to some secret Narnia, or – more likely – fling themselves through it in a reckless break toward freedom. That’s it, I decide – the sign serves as a warning: Within these confines, you are safe. Wander through this portal, and anything could happen.


I’m swept up in a moment’s wild and random speculation about the sign’s creator, presumably a former occupant of this space. What caused him (somehow I assume it was a him) to create a guidepost so quixotic? Avid reader, I surmise, devouring books alongside his neatly packed lunch. I picture him, as the clock strikes noon, putting aside his hardbound ledger with its regimented rows of figures marching toward logical conclusions, escaping momentarily to other worlds beyond these four bare walls. 


On the day of the sign’s origin, perhaps he whiled away his lunch hour with a classic tome of works by Sartre, or Beckett. Later, break over, diligently back to his to-do list. “Order sign for door,” he notes. A moment’s contemplation and it’s done, neatly typed in triplicate, the form placed in the outbox on the corner of his desk. 


Now, perhaps decades later, its message captivates. If not an exit or an entrance, then what? Omen, or invitation? Taunt, or metaphor? Are we Waiting for Godot? Is there really No Exit? 


The time for wondering is over. I square my shoulders, cross the room, turn the handle and peer inside. Just as I thought. A vacuum.

Karen Vernon is a freelance writer who makes her home near Asheville, NC, and has enjoyed a long career in corporate communications and HR. On a glide-path from that role, she is devoting time to personal creative endeavors in fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry deeply rooted in her daily experience.

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