Wind howls down the street, down the sidewalk and hill, so difficult to tackle on mornings like today. Icy shards lift, whip around and slap Laurel’s cheeks as she trudges against the wind. She swears, wishing she’d strapped ice grippers onto her hiking boots. The sun limns the hilltop. Its light is dirty, thick with anxiety and the anguish of workers who would rather be home, in bed and warm.
“Why did I decide to walk to work, rather than skip the office meeting and go out during my lunch hour?” Laurel grouses, hunching her shoulders under the thick woolen scarf—big enough to be a shawl—that she’d gotten herself for Christmas.
“Because one, you still need this job and can’t afford to miss any more meetings, and two, you need to do this walk now and do some sane thinking before you get into the office.” Her Inner Voice was impatient with her.
“Sane thinking? I am right now choosing to walk to work on what must be the coldest morning of the year, and I’m having a conversation with my inner voice. Where’s the sanity in that?”
“Well, someone’s got to stay sane around here, and it doesn’t seem to be you, Laurel.”
“Listen, Inner Voice, you’re only sane because you don’t have to navigate my outer life.”
“Well, that’s the benefit and beauty of being an inner voice.”
“Sounds like easy street. Where do I sign up?”
“I’m not saying it’s easy street, Laurel. Have you taken a census of your inner thoughts, lately?”
Laurel squints, lost in thought and partially blinded by sun fully over the horizon, now that she’s reached the top of the hill. Breathing hard, she sinks her chin into her scarf with one mittened hand, the opposite thumb hooked in the front strap of her backpack. She considers the ice crystals coating her eyelashes and blinks once, long and hard. “Isn’t that your job?”
“It’s a team effort, Laurel.”
“Oh. But you did sign up for this job, right? And you’re well-compensated, yes?”
“In a manner of speaking. Being an inner voice is one of the options available when you die and end up in Purgatory.”
“No shit,” Laurel steps delicately on a thin shelf of ice at the corner of the sidewalk. It shatters. That, at least, is satisfying, so she crackles another edge as she moves closer to her workplace.
“It’s true, Laurel. And it’s not so bad a job because I do, in fact, love you.”
Laurel leaves off crackling the ice shelves and starts down the last stretch of sidewalk. Her office building casts a cold shadow and navigating the ice becomes treacherous. “So, is that in the Inner Voice Handbook?”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true. I’m always honest.”
“So…what? Are you someone from my past life?”
“Better not tell you now.”
“So what’re you? A Magic Eight Ball?”
Her inner voice sighs. “No, I’m the honest voice. Not always kind, but the one of us that you can trust.”
“Wait!” Laurel’s head whips up. “You’re telling me I have more than one inner voice?”
“Yes, but they’re the false ones. Remember: Purgatory? You haven’t quite learned to recognize me yet, have you?”
“So it’s like angels and demons in my head?” She pulls open the front door of the office building and hot air blasts her from above. She is temporarily unable to breathe.
“That’s a little dramatic, Laurel. Some of us are just better at our jobs.”
“Ugh! Who has time to sort through all of that?”
“You’ve got a point, there. We just need some time away to relax and listen and wait for the answers to come. Honestly, I’m still figuring this stuff out for myself.”
“Swell,” Laurel waves to the security guard as she slides her security card over the sensor that gives her access to her work area. She plods down the empty hallway, unsnapping and unzipping her coat. “Seriously, though, Inner Voice, that’s actually kind of comforting…that you’re still figuring things out.”
“I know that. I’m your inner voice,” she chuckles. “Okay, we’ll return to this later. For now, slip on your work face, and buy us some time, okay?”
“You got it.”
© Liz Husebye Hartmann (2018)
Free Association Prompt: 30 mins on “Return”