Lucille has that tone that she gets when she’s annoyed and she’s doing that thing where she punctuates every few sentences with that hanging space before offering an almost silent sigh of exasperation.
“Well,” she begins saying – like she always does when she’s annoyed – “we need it done sooner rather than later.”
I nod and say, “I know. I know. I’m on it. I’m working on it right now.”
She’s one of those people that seems to think that if she really highlights how important everything is it’ll get done faster. The kind of person who probably finds herself eight people back in a line at the post office telling the person right in front of her how important her letter is and how she’s on her lunch break and she really needs to get back to the office as though all seven people’ll hear and suddenly understand how important she is and let her take her rightful place at the front of the line after realizing how critical her task is.
She gives me another sigh that, if it were turned into words, would probably be the equivalent of, “Why do I even waste my breath on you?” before saying, “You’ll have it done before lunch though, right?”
I tell her yes. The same “yes” I’ve told her three times since seven because she keeps saying I need to have it done by noon which is clearly not right now and so I obviously have time.
“Okay, well, I have another meeting so…” she lets the sentence hang in the air like she keeps on doing.
“By noon,” I say. “I’ll have it by noon.”
She doesn’t say anything to that. She doesn’t even say anything as she walks away with her clogs sounding like little baseball bats striking the ceramic tile in a little auditory fadeout.
Around the office are the obligatory decorations of fake cobwebs and paper spiders.
Just enough to remind everyone that Halloween is a thing. Just little enough to make sure that no one feels like Halloween is “a whole big thing or anything” while still making sure to let everyone know by way of posted pages of orange and black that there’s an employee potluck today.
It’s that stereotypical office dance of recognizing a day but ignoring the day but also making sure that everyone celebrates the day but not too much because we have work to do.
I look back at my screen and see where my cursor is still blinking and see how much I’ve written.
I read back over it again, clicking the down arrow so that it slides down the page like a digital finger helping me keep my place even though there aren’t that many words.
The cursor lands back at the end.
It flickers in and out of existence and I say, “Same, little guy. Same.”
“What’s that?” a voice says behind me, making me jump.
I click a few keys and the screen switches over to something else like I was about to get caught watching porn or snuff videos…or pornographic snuff videos, perhaps…on company time and bandwidth and barely get a chance to turn around before I see the bold clown makeup on Daniel’s face hovering mere inches from me.
“Internal memorandum – System update policy procedure,” he reads out loud. “Jesus,” he adds, “It’s making me tired and I’m still at the top of the fucking page.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Exciting stuff.”
“You guys going to the potluck?” Laura says, slowing her pace as she walks by. “Ted brought that dip in that everyone likes.”
“The chili dip?” Daniel asks.
“No, that’s what Ned brings. Ted brings that…uh…you know. It’s the…the dip. It’s…you’ll know it when you see it.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Daniel says.
“Yeah,” I agree. “Wouldn’t miss it.”
She continues walking away looking very much like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Daniel cranes his head an inappropriate degree to watch her depart.
“Talk about exciting stuff,” he says.
I look back at my screen like someone might if they were the Unabomber and they were making sure their blueprints weren’t visible.
“You have any fucking idea what kinda dip she was talking about?”
“Cowboy crack or whatever,” I say with my attention mostly on my monitor. “The stuff with the cheese that isn’t cheese and that stuff that’s like salsa but isn’t salsa.”
“Oh, right,” he says before looking at me and my screen.
“Anyway,” he continues, “did you need something?”
“You said something when I was walking by.”
“Oh,” I say. “No, I was just…” I point to my screen. “Work. You know.”
“I don’t think the screen talks back.”
I refrain from saying that it does when it’s a video meeting because I need to get back to what I was doing and I’d rather not have him watching me while I do.
“Well, hey, don’t forget about the potluck,” he says as though there’s any way on earth that anyone in the office could forget about it.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” I say.
“The fuck are you supposed to be, anyway?” he asks.
I open a nearby drawer and pull out a small burlap-sack style mask with holes cut out for the eyes and I hold it up. “Creepy scarecrow kinda thing, or something. It was a rush job,” I lie.
“With just the overalls and flannel, I thought that maybe you were just channeling your inner hillbilly or something,” he says. “I get the feeling that with that hood on you’re gonna have more of a children of the corn, serial killer vibe than a scarecrow.”
“Don’t worry,” I say, “no hatchets or machetes.”
“Exactly what a serial killer would say.”
“Also what not-a-serial killer would say,” I say with a slightly squinty expression.
“Touché,” he says and then he does that thing where he clicks his tongue and scrunches up the left side of his face and makes a little finger gun motion at me and says, “See ya there,” and then he walks away.
There’s a part of me that almost wants to laugh.
I wait for a moment to see if anyone else is waiting for an opportunity to derail me from doing the only thing I’m trying to get done for the day before I finally ALT+TAB back to the open document.
I read through it again and then continue to type.
Every so often, I look over at my phone, and every time I see it blink I feel a sense of dread, a sense of nervousness, a sense of hope, and a sense of hopelessness.
Every time I pick it up, it’s nothing but mundane notifications about nothing or else some random email from another spam account telling me to “ClaIm Y0uR priZee n0w!” and all that dread and nervousness and hope and hopelessness end up turning into something else that I can’t quite define.
At eleven-thirty, I hear Lucille approaching before I see her and I tab back over to what she expects me to be working on and bring up the Print Document screen so that by the time she’s behind me I can turn around and say, “Printing it now.”
She stares at me for a second and then lets out a sigh before walking away.
When the sound of her feet sounds far enough away, I flip back to my actual work. My real work. The only reason I even came in to the office today.
I read through it again and again and it’s the shift in noise that takes me out of my own headspace. The sound of people all moving simultaneously so that they can go corral around large plastic tables and put random types of food on paper plates and disposable bowls with plastic utensils.
I tab over to a different screen and start a loading process so that it looks like I’m in the middle of something so that when random people stop by saying, “Hey, you heading to the break room?” or “Better hurry, Donna brought that cake in that she brought last Christmas,” or “You’re not gonna be that weird guy that misses the company lunch, are you?” I can point to my screen and say, “Just gonna let this finish up and I’ll be there.”
Before long, all the noise is centralized in the break room that’s far enough from me that the little world of employee-made and employee-purchased food consumption sounds like a little small gathering on the other side of an apartment complex wall.
I don’t tab back over to my actual work just yet. Instead, I look at my phone. I pick it up and I watch for a blinking light. I hope it’s the right color when it happens and it starts to blink right as I’m thinking about it.
I don’t even register the color, I just unlock it and see, “EntEr n0W For Y0uR Free k0hl’s Gift C@rd!!!” in a new email notification.
I click open my email to confirm that nothing is in it except the newest stack of spam.
I click open my messages and confirm that nothing is there except a few new instances of codes sent by our automated system so I can log into our office system.
I click into photos and see the only picture that’s there and I click it so that it’s full screen and then I close it.
I open my browser and confirm that the history is clear. The cookies are clear.
Everything is clear.
Everything is gone.
I’d done my dishes this very morning. I’d swept and mopped. I’d done my laundry and put everything away. I put everything in order and then I left the house dressed in overalls and flannel with a burlap sack mask in my tote bag and I left the door unlocked.
I open up my photos again and I open the only picture there so I can see it in full view and then I delete that too.
I tab over to the only thing I’ve been working on and I click print.
I can hear everyone in the break room while I go get the single sheet of paper and I bring it back to my desk.
Then I open the drawer below the one where I kept the mask.
“I didn’t know what the fuck it was,” he’s saying. “We’re all in there eating and then there’s this sound like fucking thunder and everyone panics, ya know? School shootings and office shootings and all that shit. I dropped my plate of black forest cake and other people are pushing to get out of the way. Simon is so gung ho to get the fuck out that he knocks over Susan – she’s his secretary – and she hits her head on the counter and it sounded like someone cracked a honeydew against a slab of marble.”
I’m taking the statement down while other officers are taking down the statements of everyone else. Judging from the damage, it would be easy to assume that something terrible actually happened in the breakroom, but all the damage and carnage there was the end result of people freaking out and fearing for their lives.
The man I’m talking to – Daniel – has the right of it though. Shootings and whatnot. Anymore, no one hears that and thinks anything other than “This is how I die.”
I can hear a woman nearby talking about a memo and saying something about noon.
Not far away, a man is lying dead. Best I can tell, he put a burlap sack over his head, put a gun in his mouth, and then pulled the trigger.
I don’t know why he did what he did, but I know why he put that sack on his head.
It’s right there on the page on his desk which reads:
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to do it like this but it was the only way I knew anyone would find the body. I wanted to make sure to keep the blood splatter to a minimum so that it wouldn’t be any more traumatic than it’s already going to be.
Tell Lucille the memo is in printer tray four, I printed it before I pulled the trigger. I know she needs it out by noon.