So I’m sitting at a long wooden table in a conference room and I’m thinking. Or I should be thinking, because there’s a highly paid expert standing in front of a glowing screen speaking in very animated tones about subjects that are supposed to be vitally important to me and my career.
But I’m not really thinking.
I’m only pretending to think.
Instead, I’m staring out the window, imagining myself standing on an expansive veranda outside a very large bedroom inside an enormous stone mansion built on a low hill overlooking a sapphire-blue sea. I don’t know where this house is or what it’s called, so I decide to name it Beulah Land and make it my permanent home.
The water below me is rippling in the breeze and I’m thinking it’s the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen when the guy sitting next to me accidentally drops his pen on the table. Startled by the noise, I realize I’m daydreaming, that Beulah Land only exists in my mind. It’s not real. There isn’t even a window for me to stare out of because some architect designed this particular conference room without windows. So I’m just staring at a spot on the tan-colored wall where a window would be if the room had windows, which it doesn’t.
Who was the first person to design a room without windows, I wonder? Was it some pasty-skinned fellow with greasy hair who lived alone in the basement of his mother’s house and worked for Stalin? Stalin seems like the sort of paranoid fuck who would order his state architect to build rooms without windows.
Without windows, people who are angry because they don’t get enough food to eat can’t hide in the bushes at night and watch you dine on lamb and red wine while your honored guests dance to folk music.
No windows, no snipers.
Or maybe it was that little shit Hitler. He lived in a windowless concrete bunker, and was a champion of efficient architecture. Say what you want about windowless rooms and concrete bunkers, they are incredibly efficient. Cool in the summer, warm in the winter. Like a bear’s cave, if the bear’s a genocidal Nazi with a goofy mustache.
At about that moment, a pretty woman three seats away from me quietly pushes herself up out of her chair. Her skirt rides up, revealing a bit more thigh than she intended, and she anxiously pulls the cloth back into place as she walks past me. Maybe she’s going to the restroom. Maybe she’s bored, and wants to stretch. Maybe she needs to call home because her daughter caught the flu that’s been going around, and like all good mothers, she’s worried.
And the woman’s gone in one, two, three quick heartbeats, but the memory of her thigh lingers and I’m thinking it’s perhaps the finest thing I have ever seen. On a whim, I lean forward in my chair to read her nameplate. But the angle’s too steep and I can’t see it, so I decide to call her Beulah. Beulah’s not a very pretty name for a pretty woman with a pretty thigh, but I’m buried in a windowless coffin built by Stalin’s architect and I can’t think of a better name, so Beulah it is.
Eventually, Beulah returns. She doesn’t notice me looking at her when she enters the room, and because I’m still not thinking clearly, or maybe because I finally am thinking clearly, I stare straight at her as she walks back to the table. But Beulah remembers what happened when she stood up, and she holds her skirt in place as she sits down, so I don’t see her pretty thigh again. I can only remember the shape of it, as if I saw it in a dream, or saw it from an imaginary veranda outside a stone house overlooking a sapphire-blue sea. My memory of it is watery, indistinct.
The speaker is talking louder now, pointing at the glowing screen with a red laser pointer to emphasize his points. I make it a point to pay attention, but I can’t focus, and only catch a few words.
I raise my hand, tentatively.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but did you say Beulah Land?” I ask.
Everybody in the room turns to look at me. Then they turn back to look at the speaker. Then they look at me. Then they look at him, like we’re playing tennis and he’s winning the set.
“No,” he says, smiling. “Bureau lands. Bureau of Land Management. The BLM.”
“Of course,” I say. “The sound’s a little garbled back here. I didn’t think that made any sense.”
And I laugh like it’s funny instead of embarrassing, and then the speaker laughs, and then everybody laughs. Except for one guy who’s sitting on the other side of the table wearing a dark suit and a red tie. That guy is frowning and shaking his head.
“Idiot!” he’s thinking.
And when I see him frowning and shaking his head in his dark suit, my skin flushes and my face turns as red as his tie. And I shrug foolishly, and the speaker resumes his presentation, and everybody turns in his direction and quickly forgets about me. And after a while I’m staring at the wall again, trying to get back to the veranda outside the big stone house on the low hill overlooking a sapphire-blue sea.
Trying to find Beulah Land.