That Mysterious Rite

A voice comes into his dreams: “Eight o’clock, sir. Eight o’clock. Breakfast is ready.”

He smells eggs and toast and coffee. “Thank you, Mr. Browning. It smells marvelous. You may extend my compliments to Mr. Schultz.”

“Very good, sir. Will you need anything else just as yet?”

“No, I don’t think so. We’ll go over my schedule after I’ve dressed. I shall ring.”

“Yes, sir.” The click of the door behind Mr. Browning. He eats. The jam especially is delicious. It is Mr. Schultz’s specialty.

In the shower he cries and beats his chest. His tears run down into the soap and drip into the drain. His face is twisted agonizingly under the needlepoints of the water. “I can’t do it,” he wails. “I’m a colossal fraud! I don’t know what I’m doing. Everything I do will be a failure. Everything I’ve ever done was hideous and deformed!” His sobs echo off the drainpipes, but the bathroom has been soundproofed for just this reason. His morning rituals are private.

He laughs into his reflection in the mirror and combs his beard carefully. When he enters his office twenty minutes later he is self-contained as a cat, content and dangerous.