The Atrium by David Ward

The Atrium

David Ward

The town hall had been built in bad circumstances, by bad people, and in a bad location. The old city planner had missed the giant, town-square bullseye and thunked the hall at the edge of the board in such a tangle of one-way streets that visitors could never approach the building head-on no matter how hard they tried. Inconvenient, yes, but the property had been cheap, and maybe bad people is hyperbole. It was the80s and the school board had just co-opted the old town hall for a new K-4 branch through brute charisma, and even that was a minor concern compared to the other problems the town was facing. The old mayor and city council were guilty of thrift and anxiety, just like anyone, and in a spasm of leadership they got a new town hall built.

The new town hall was never going to be any kind of local monument. The auto-body repair shop and Burger King next door were doomed to become refuges for school kids who were deeply uncomfortable with their lives. Anyone could buy pot from the Burger King and, depending on whose shift it was at Auto Kingdom, cocaine. Anyone wandering past the three buildings would see two kingdoms flanking a beige nobody of a building.

But for all that the town hall looked like an abandoned mattress store, these municipal employees did allow themselves one financial flourish, one architectural vice. At the center of the town hall there was, and still is, an atrium. Glass ceiling, brick walkway, cedar benches: it’s going to be like being in a mall, said the people who saw it under construction. They hoped birds would sneak in and build nests on windowsills; they voted to purchase green trash cans to blend in with the vegetation; volunteers came in on weekends, climbed through the scaffolding before the walls were even in place, and tilled and seeded an herb garden. A specialist gave a presentation on appropriate plants, and in an unparalleled show of inter-division unity, they voted on queen palms, black olive trees, and English ivy. A real Frankenstein of a biome, but no one cared. It was green, would stay green in winter, and would give folks a place to stretch their legs.

Or, it would have done. A mistake was made. On final inspection of the completed town hall, the contractor in charge of construction realized that there was, in fact, no way into the atrium. A notation error had changed windows for walls and doors for windows. “Sealed up pretty good,” the contractor told the city council.

“Unseal it,” said the council, “we paid good money to not eat lunch in the break room.”

If only it was that easy. The contractor would be happy to rectify the mistake on their own dime, more than happy, except—it wasn’t their mistake. It was the architect’s fault, bad plans, and he had been hired separately by the city council. The councilors searched their files, interrogated secretaries, and seemed, collectively, to have lost the architect’s contact information. “He had a mustache that kept getting caught in his teeth,” said one employee.

“Wasn’t it a woman?” said another. “Didn’t she limp? Didn’t she carry a black cane with a copper tip?”

“Twenty percent off the rest of the labor,” said the contractor, “because we love this town. Best we can do.”

But twenty percent wasn’t enough. Fifty, even, would have been cutting it close for the bitch of a budget that the mayor and council had to work with. Another year, they decided, when we have a little breathing room.

But another year never came, and the city’s employees grew used to watching the atrium from their offices. Mint from the herb garden crawled over the brick path. Condensation hung in pearls from their windows until the ivy, thriving and undisturbed, grew up and over the glass, and their private jungle disappeared from view.

A decade and change later, the new town hall has already mellowed into a middle-aged disrepair, ripe with scuffed linoleum and streaked carpets and certain faucets which can’t dispense cold water any more. The mayor, in fact, is the only part of the town hall that feels new. At twentyfive years old, the youngest mayor in town history swept into office with a landslide victory (as in: disaster, act of God) in an uncontested race. His only competition had been one Gerold Haskins, a retired orthodontist arrested for domestic violence three weeks before election day. Fate strongarmed the several hundred citizens who bothered to turn up into voting for a kid who looked in his newspaper profile as hair-gelled and unremarkable as he had in every school photo, a townie who disappeared for college and reappeared to find that his absence had gone just as unnoticed as his presence had been. And so he had done a swan dive back into the black pool of his hometown with hardly a ripple and spent the years until the mayoral race drifting while the town congealed around him.

So why put his name into the race? He hadn’t wanted to, exactly. It was Kev’s idea, Kev’s joke; he’d just delivered the punchline himself. But no, that wasn’t fair—a joke is a funny thing you think up and forget. This, he’d gone and done on paper, and it was therefore impossible to forget. When he told Kev that he’d actually done it, actually put his name in, Kev had looked insulted. “You think you can win?” Kev had asked. No, man, but that’s not the point.

The point then had been that, even if he got zero votes, everyone who showed up had to at least read the ballot. They’d at least read his name.

The point now, though, is that he has the job. Somehow he is mayor, First of His Name, Deliverer of the Sweatiest Acceptance Speech in the Land, Shirker of Duties. “I hope you’re up to the job,” his mother had said. “You let us know if you need anything,” his father had said, as if expecting to shoulder the mayoral burden himself.

The mayor hides in his office. It is an ashy Thursday in January, 5:15pm, and he waits for everyone else to leave so he can work (work”) in private. His secretary (his secretary!), Mr. Tolmund, shrugs on a parka. “Ready for tomorrow?” he asks, and eyes the mayor’s blank desk.

“Wrapping up,” the mayor says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mr. Tolmund gives a “we’ll see” wave and disappears. The mayor feels like he’s just failed a Social Studies test. That’s what it is, he realizes, pleased to have understood something, at least—Mr. Tolmund has an unmistakable teacherly miasma that follows him around the office. The man has been a town hall fixture since the early days, since the Old Building and the school board takeover. Competent to excess, Mr. Tolmund excretes paperwork at the lightest provocation.

By seven pm, a time of lunar hallways and black windowsthe mayor’s favorite time of dayhe is the only one left. All the others, the whole taxonomical tree of administrators, have squidged out of the building in parka’d droplets until only the furnace fan and fluorescent hum keep him company.

Okay, he thinks, now is when it happens: he wakes the Macintosh from its pipe-maze screen saver and opens a text document. Tomorrow is the year’s first meeting of the city council, and it’s the mayor’s responsibility, traditionally, to set the agenda and give some opening remarks. Welcome, he types. I know I’m not what you expected, but— I know none of you expected me to end up here—I’m eager to work with you on—The mayor opens the ‘Games’ folder and boots up ‘Magic 8 Pinball.’ A few rounds in, and he hasn’t come close to whoever set the previous high score.

Eight p.m. The mayor re-reads what must be the most vague agenda the town has ever seen. Item One: greetings. Item Two: budget. Item Two (a): expenses. Item Three: projects and proposals. It wouldn’t fly. The others would be polite, except for Mr. Tolmund, who would be visibly disappointed and do everything short of handing the agenda back with a C+, more effort next time in red pen. Well, it would have to do. I’ll make mistakes and learn from them, the mayor thought, pleased with this wisdom but a little panicky nonetheless.

The mayor leans back in his office chair and thinks about mistakes, and forgiveness, and church. Someone once said that the architecture of a church is its own prayer, and that just entering the space is a kind of worship. Who had said that? Maybe lots of people, the mayor thinks. He went to a Catholic church as a child, a tortoise of brown brick with a ribbed ceiling and organ pipes for lungs and tongues. He spins the building in his mind, palms it like rubik’s cube. The whole thing—was prayer. A noun and a verb blended together.

The mayor leans back in his seat until he almost tips, catches himself in time, and lands with a clack of chair-wheels against carpet liner. Wait—here is another thought, coming down the pipeline. If the architecture of a cathedral is a prayer, is constantly praying, what about other buildings? What is their verb? This building, for example, the town hall that includes the mayoral office and the bolt-holes of several other departments, a bureaucratic layer cake with a hole in the middle: what is its verb? If walking in a church is the same as worshiping, what is this, scooting back and forth in his chair? Is it still worshiping, or is

Somewhere in the building glass breaks. Loud and hard, like someone chucked a water glass at a brick wall.

The hair on the mayor’s arms lifts. It can’t have been a janitor—the township can only afford them on Friday and Tuesday, and this is Thursday, but he checks the calendar just in case.

The mayor gropes around for something to hold. Not a weapon, he tells himself, but yeah: a weapon. The best he can find is a paperweight, glass or heavy resin with a little Christmas house inside. The mayor has bad aim, as years of gym class have proven beyond the least doubt, but still: better than nothing.

A loop around his floor reveals nothing out of place. The motion-sensing hallway lights pace alongside him, letting him glimpse the frozen interiors of various municipal departments. The mayor resists the sudden, adolescent urge to sneak into the city planner’s office and find something of his own to vandalize.

Voices snake up from the first floor. Laughter. Teens, thinks the mayor. The word forms in his head before he can stop it, and, half-horrified, realizes that he means it the same way a sitcom dad means it. Something else breaks. The breakroom microwave beeps. The mayor grips his paperweight. What if they’re some of those high school kids who looks like they’re thirty-five already? What if they’re big kids?

The mayor descends to the first floor, one hand on the railing. Should I cough? Let them know I’m coming and give them time to run? Or do I sneak up on them, get the drop. Are teens like pumas? Should I hold my coat over my head so they mistake me for something large and dangerous?

Too late now. A January draft chills the lobby, the door left swinging open, the door he ought to have locked after everyone else had left. There’s a light on in the break room, employees only, just off the lobby. Inside, the microwave smokes and makes sad noises about the handful of silverware it couldn’t digest. The window to the atrium has been shattered, and ivy leaves spill over the frame. Two kids straddle the lunch table, making out as if making out were a furious game of tug-of-war. They wrestle the same rope.

The mayor coughs. They spring apart—gasps, expletives. The mayor can’t tell how old they are. Underclassmen, definitely. Young enough to have to go to pep rallies, old enough to hate going to pep rallies. He buttons pants, she tucks a breast into her bra, both squinting at him as if he were a light shining suddenly on them. Without thinking about the consequences, the mayor tells them that he’s calling the cops.

Their reaction is immediate and gratifying. “It was an accident,” the boy says. His face melts with horror. “We didn’t mean to—” he gestures lamely at the upended break room.

The girl is cannier. “Hey, it’s all right.” She soothes the mayor. “We’re fine, see? Nothing’s really broken.” She paces a step forward. Red hair in a dangerous halo, red-checkered flannel shirt, pointed face: she looks like an actual fox. “It was a joke, right? We can go?”

Another pace forward. The jedi mind trick almost works. The mayor catches himself feeling sorry for these runts and stands his ground at the last minute.

“I don’t want to get arrested,” the boy says. The mayor can almost see the roast beef of his brain recovering everything it knows about the legal system from every social studies class and tv show and urban legend.

“Of course we won’t get arrested. We’re too young,” says the girl.

“Wait. Wait.” The boy holds his camo winter coat by one sleeve, like dragging a teddy bear or a flail. He studies the mayor, takes in his babyface, his Sports-Clips haircut. “Do you go to our school? Just let us go, man.”

No, man. That does it. Luckily these aren’t giant football kids. These are weedy, standardized test failers, concert t-shirt collectors, once and future patrons of the black market Burger King. The mayor is not one of them, and is not afraid of them. “I’m calling the cops,” he says again, and steps back into the lobby, closing the door behind him with what he hopes is an authoritative bang.

The door has no lock. He can’t hold them in and make the phone call at the same time. The mayor jogs to the lobby phone and, with one eye on the keypad and one eye on the door, dials 911. The report is easy. The operator connects him to the police department, and he describes the problem: vandals, two, town hall. He uses the word “perpetrators.” The door inches open, and the mayor drops the handset, leaps to the door, and slams it shut again. By the time he gets back to the phone, the officer on the other end has already hung up.

Now what? The mayor starts to feel a little silly watching this closed door. They’re just school kids. He’s probably kind of a bully for keeping them shut up in the break room. What would a good mayor have done? Taken their names, called their parents, somehow given them a not-shitty talk about why busting up the town hall was not a good idea.

But he can’t let them go now, not after he called the cops. The mayor decides to peek in on them again, just to let them know that he’s made the call and has still got his eye on them. He swings the door open. He looks around the room, and around the room again. They’re gone. The microwave, still ajar, beeps. It’s like a magic trick. For a long moment the mayor can’t understand how he’s been fooled, and then his eye falls on the open atrium window, fingers of English ivy moving in their own breeze.

The mayor waits. They’ve got nowhere to run, he’s got nowhere to go. He imagines them canoodling (God! That word! Straight from the brain of an extremely religious fifth grade teacher he once had) on what’s left of the park benches. The mayor hears not so much as a stray giggle from the two of them, however. Whatever they’re whispering to each other right this very moment is entombed in leaves layered on leaves. That wind—must be the pressure differential. The atrium air conversing with the stale breakroom for the first time in a decade.

The mayor cleans out the microwave, straightens the chairs, and puts the broken one to the side for the janitor to find before realizing that he’s disturbing a crime scene. Crime scene! Hardly. That’s the problem with being a mayor when you’re twenty-five, he thinks. Your categories of catastrophe and responsibility are all out of whack.

For example: is it his place to go after those kids? What if they hurt themselves in there in the dark? What would a newspaper say about that: Negligent New Mayor Neglects Rescue.

Another ten minutes drip past. They should be here by now. They as in the cops, as in Tolmund, as in his parents, as in those kids. As in everybody. The mayor imagines the town hall full of people, full of citizens, the offices and lobby and breakroom bursting, a crowd so dense no one knows who or where he is. A crowd of problem solvers—everyone is here, nothing has to be done, and the mayor can disappear.

The mayor takes another pass by the open window. He heaves himself up onto the ledge. The glass has shattered cleanly, leaving no jagged edges. He parts the ivy and sticks his face though the leaves.

It’s another world in there. Like sticking his face through a pool of warm ink. The atrium breathes on him, the air humid and tropically warm. The wreath of ivy tongues his neck, and the mayor shudders. His eyes take a long time to adjust, until he finally realizes that the atrium is just that dark. The mayor cranes his neck, and while here and there stars shine through the canopy, through the glass, they look somehow more distant than usual.

Silly, the mayor thinks. He’s freaked out, and it’s nighttime, and he spent years re-reading the Narnia books. The whole thing can’t be more than twenty yards across, no matter how weedy and overgrown. But the mayor listens to the space of the atrium, and he can’t hear the walls.

When he pulls his head back through the window, the mayor has to close his eyes against the awful rubbing-alcohol light of the breakroom. He can smell the carpet and the plastic chairs. The mayor’s head spins. When he opens his eyes again, there’s a cartoon police officer waiting, hand outstretched.

“What seems to be the trouble?” he asks, as cartoons do.

This is Officer Klein Brandon, a backwards name for a straightforward guy. They shake. “And you are?” asks Officer Brandon.

“I’m the mayor,” says the mayor.

“Ah,” says the cop. “Well.” The mayor watches the thought cross Officer Klein Brandon’s mind that maybe he’s the butt of a joke, that maybe the mayor isn’t actually the mayor but one of the vandals. The mayor squares his shoulders, ramrods his back, looks serious. He lays out the evening’s events in clear, factual terms.

“Doesn’t seem too bad,” Officer Brandon says.

No, it isn’t that bad.

“Did you get their names?”

No, he had not gotten their names.

“Do you happen to have any ID on you? Just for the paperwork?” The mayor is learning about paperwork. He produces a driver’s license.

Someone screams inside the atrium.

Not a scream of terror, he thinks, but of triumph.

Doesn’t matter to Officer Brandon—he’s at the window in a flash, hollering for whoever can hear, but the black square and the leaves eat his voice right up. He turns to the mayor. “Was that them? Did you recognize the voice?”

The mayor shakes his head, but the cop has already pulled out his radio. He tells the mouthpiece that he suspects an altercation. “We’re going to need another officer,” says Officer Brandon. The person on the other end speaks through a cloud of gnats, asks for details. Officer Brandon describes the town hall, the broken window, the scream.

A long silence on the dispatch end. A new voice comes on. Office Brandon’s tone changes. “Yes sir,” he says, “the old atrium. Couldn’t see anything, got no response.”

The static clears enough for the mayor to hear the voice say “Come on back. The parents can file a missing person report.”

“Sir—” But the static swarms back, and Officer Brandon gets no response. “Shit,” he says.

The evening gets worse. For one, Officer Brandon’s mood sours. He hasn’t left, and the fact that he has disobeyed whichever superior gave him the order makes him visibly testy. Officer Brandon paces. He kicks a table out of place, and then straightens it again. He looks at the mayor, opens his mouth, and then closes it without saying anything. With every round of pacing, he stops at the window and stares out into the atrium. “I’m going in,” he announces, and then paces away again.

He feels it too, the mayor realizes. He looked through the window and felt the space expand. Which doesn’t help the mayor any. Is it up to me, he wonders, to come up with a plan? Do I give an order now?

Doesn’t matter. The mayor can’t do it. He’s not once, ever, been the leader type. Years spent seeing himself fit lumpenly into the Peter Pevensie mold, the Aragorn mold, of sitting in the backs of classrooms, of raising his hand a half-second later than everyone else in class votes. He doesn’t have it in his bloodstream to order this cop, one way or another. “They’re not missing,” he says instead, responding several minutes too late to the voice on the radio.

“No shit. You’ve been in there?”

The mayor shakes his head.

“They got turned around is all. They’re probably just hiding, the assholes. The cunts.

“Now hang on. They could be in trouble, let’s not—”

Officer Brandon points the walkie-talkie like a gun. “I’m just saying. I’m going to have to get back on this thing and explain myself if I don’t show up in twenty fucking minutes. Alright? If I say they’re assholes, then that’s what they are.” He pauses. A thought dawns. “Hey. Do you have any rope?”

No, hey, uh, the mayor does not have any rope.

“I’m not gonna string them up. It’s so I don’t get lost in there. I hold one end, you hold the other…”

“Oh. Sure—maybe the janitor? Down the hall?” The mayor points the way, and Officer Brandon leaves.

So that’s number one on the list of ways the evening worsens.

Number two: half a minute after Officer Brandon leaves, a woman pokes her head into the room. The mayor, drifting back toward that broken window, jumps. The woman pauses at the door, faux-shy, having appeared mostly by magic.

“Hi,” she says. It’s a question and an introduction. She steps off the word and into the room. “I heard that something was going on, and since it was the town hall of all places, I thought I’d swing by.” The mayor gapes. “You know, to see what’s up. I’m from The Sentinel, by the way. Can I come in?” She’s already in. The mayor nods.

Autumn Daly introduces herself. “Yes, like the season. No ‘please leaf’ jokes, ha ha ha. And you are?”

The mayor has to introduce himself again. He almost produces his license, but instead shakes her hand, which is small and cool and dry and splitting at the nail seams. The mayor knows Autumn Daly. You don’t spend four straight months of AP Calculus admiring someone’s adorably misaligned jaw and forget. “So,” she says. “What’s happening here?”

“Nothing, ah, really,” the mayor says, feeling the roast beef of his brain struggling to recall everything it knows about “the press.And suddenly the number of stories he’s heard about people in trouble for not talking to the press seems to equal the number of stories about people who could have been saved from their fate had only they talked to the press on time or in the right way. So which is it now? Why doesn’t Autumn Daly recognize him from Calc? “Just a break-in, you know, minor.”

The mayor can see that she knows this already, obviously, but she makes a too-polite, shocked face. “Oh? Was anyone hurt? Were you here at the time?”

No comment, no comment, no comment. Officer Brandon stumbles in, rope coiled around one arm, and saves him by accident. “I found—ah shit. It should be illegal for civilians to own police scanners.”

“What’s the rope for, Officer?” A grin from Autumn Daly

They obviously know each other; their town beats overlap, “fancy seeing you here and also everywhere,” this town is the size of a hand, a fist, like a heart or a reasonable portion of chicken dinner. The mayor notices how handsome Officer Klein Brandon is.

“Just a precaution. You,” he says, you as in the mayor of the whole goddamn town, “you want to hold the other end?”

No, not particularly.

“We were just talking,” Autumn Daly says. “He was filling me in on the details.”

The mayor stands. “Just—hold on.” His first decree. “I’ll be back in a moment.”

Officer Brandon throws his hands up, mood sliding farther down, and Autumn Daly’s eyes narrow. Expecting him to make a run for it, maybe. Not that he’s not tempted. He goes back upstairs to the office at an embarrassing partial run, two steps at a time. Once he’s safely alone in his office with the door shut behind him, the mayor opens the staff directory and calls Mr. Tolmund’s home number. The phone rings long enough for him to feel just how much he’s intruding on Tolmund’s evening, but the man eventually answers.

“There are police,” the mayor says, somehow breathless, “at the town hall. And the newspaper.” The story comes out in a rush. “What do I say? What do I do?” He hears the words and winces, but lets them stand. He’s still holding, somehow, clenched like a rock in his hand, the glass paperweight.

Mr. Tolmund knows what to say and what to do. “You tell Daly that it’s a crime scene and that she should leave, but that you’ll talk to her first thing in the morning. Tell her to call me. Now—who is actually inside the atrium?”

“Just the two kids,” the mayor says, “although Officer Brandon is planning to go in once I get back.”

“Well, by God, don’t let him. You get Daly out of there, and then the two of you board up the window.”

“But the kids?”

“There will be hammers and scrap wood in the maintenance closet. It’s important to keep these spaces locked up. I’ll get in touch with Newman and Sons in the morning to come and fix up the window.”


“They’ll be fine. We can talk about them tomorrow. Tough break for your first week, though. But Andrew? You’re doing great.”

A glow of pride settles around the mayor. He tries to shrug it off—Tolmund can’t have meant it, right?but the feeling sticks. They hang up.

I’m doing a great job, he thinks. Just get Daly out, convince Officer Brandon to board up the window. How? Maybe spending the night = fitting punishment? Not that the law is only punitive. But in daylight, surely, if they make it that long, we’ll find them more easily.

The mayor takes the stairs down one at a time, a mayoral pace. No conversation from the break room. Good—maybe the cop sent Autumn Daly home already?

No. Her hip against a table, sneakers braced against the carpet, Autumn Daly holds one end of a rope that stabs through the broken window.

“He went through as soon as you left,” she says.

The mayor’s heart and stomach oxidize. “Anything?”


“Call him back. We need to get him back. And then—” the mayor tries to remember the plan, which has already disintegrated. “And then you need to leave.”

“We can’t, and I’m not. Here, look.” She nods at the rope. “It’s been like this as soon as he went in.” The line stretches taut and still, like a rod of rebar.

“We’ll give him a signal,” the mayor says. “Here.” He reaches out to tug the line.

“Don’t!” Autumn Daly sounds really, genuinely worried, but it’s too late. The mayor pulls the rope once, twice. His hands, ever instruments of the mundane, break the spell. The rope goes slack and sags against the window frame. “What did you do?”

“Nothing! You saw, I just gave the signal.” But the mayor knows the truth, that he’s just interrupted whatever connection Officer Brandon had to the town hall breakroom. He starts to reel in the rope, but Autumn Daly stops him.

“Leave it—what if he tries to pick it back up and it’s not there?”

The mayor goes to the window. When the breeze walks past he smells the ivy, of course, but also imagines woodsmoke, river mud, rosemary. He could go through himself. When the sun rises in the atrium, it won’t be winter there. He imagines a red canyon, imagines his own rough breathing as he labors up the face of it, imagines what he’d feel looking back for the town-hall window and not seeing it, being unhooked from the office and the mayoralty and the town and his family. He also imagines the story that Autumn Daly will write about him, whether he goes through or not. Front page: “Didn’t Last a Week,” or maybe “Mild Mayor Makes Mistakes.”

It can’t be him. Neither person fits, not the escapee, not the laughingstock. The mayor thinks: If only I could do a good job.

He steps away from the window. Autumn Daly watches him. “Have you looked through?” he asks. “Can you see anything? I thought I saw a light inside.”

Autumn puts her end of the rope down. She suspects a trick; it is a trick. The mayor steps back, offers her his own place at the sill. She steps up to the window. “Klein! Klein!

“It’s really amazing,” the mayor says, “how three people can be all inside one small atrium and we don’t hear a thing.” Autumn Daly is glued to the window, face dipped in shadow. “Do you write mostly crime reports?”

“What?” Autumn tears herself away from the leaves.

“Do you write mostly crime reports, or do they let you do investigative stuff?”


“Because it seems like there’s something to investigate here. Could you write a piece on whatever’s happening inside?”

“Klein hasn’t come back yet.”

“Exactly! That is exactly why you, me, we need to follow him. Find him, the highschool kids. Which story do you want to write? The one about the mayor’s first week on the job, or the first-person narrative expose?”

Autumn Daly weighs all her options. “You’re coming too?”

“Sure. For safety. The buddy system. We’ll be back out in a few minutes if we don’t find anything.”

The mayor watches the whole arc pass across Autumn Daly’s face: the burden of choice, the concern about her job, the distrust of him, worry about the cop, and then all of that falling away as she contemplates that broken window and the green breeze. A railroad spike of envy skewers the mayor, who has already made his choice. “Okay,” she says, as he knew she would.

“After you.”

Autumn Daly climbs onto the sill. “There’s a bit of a drop,” she says, and disappears.

The mayor nails down the boards: one and one and one. These are the wrong nails, stubby, wide flat heads. For roofing, maybe. They barely reach through the thin plywood to the windowframe. One and one and one. He counts the hammerstrokes. They go nowhere. He wonders if those inside the atrium can hear the boards being nailed, and then crushes the thought.

As the last board goes across, the mayor is struck again by the fantasy of filling the town hall with everyone he knows, all the citizens, all his middle school teachers, all the girls in town, all the highschool basketball players, his parents, the city council, everyone. He imagines lining them up single file like a class of first graders and marching them one by one through the atrium window until the town and the town hall are empty and he can do his job in peace.


© 2017 David Ward


David Ward is a graduate of the University of Michigan’s MFA program. He has been published in Black Warrior Review and Laundry Literary Magazine. He teaches and freelances in Ann Arbor, where he lives with his oracular hamster Phillippe.