t was nearing the end of another slogging day. The queasy, late afternoon light seeped through a cheap set of Venetian blinds, casting horizontal prison bars across my computer screen. I squinted in frustration; the shadows were making it difficult to concentrate on my eleventh round of solitaire. A few more games…maybe one more cigarette break…then home. I’d completed my last bit of work hours before, and the gentle buzz from my liquid lunch had already waned and transmuted into a dull pain between my shoulder blades. Every motion felt labored, body and mind – slack as yarn. All was silent, save for the ticking of a nearby clock. Tawwk. Tawwk. Tawwk. Tawwk. I was getting sleepy…verrrrry sleepy.
“Williams, get in here! Immediately!”
My spine snapped to attention, all synapses fired to life. It was my boss, Parker Jenkins, and he sounded pissed. Jesus Christ, what now? I thought, as I slunk the few steps to his office; it was a well-worn path.
Slamming the door behind him, he fell back in his chair with a thunderous grunt. I took the seat across from him, eyes lowered, palms flat to my thighs. In a loud and weary voice, he told me that he had just received a frantic call from the head of our division, complaining that he was stranded in Ouagadougou with no place to stay. Jenkins had reminded me to book his hotel reservations several times that month but I still forgot. Whoops.
“They’ve got open defecation over there, Williams,” he railed from behind the reams of dusty old brochures cluttering his desk. “OPEN DEH-FAH-CAY-SHUN!”
I sat mute, absorbing his fury in spongy submission.
“As we speak, the man is literally wandering the streets in search of shelter,” he carried on, the ropey veins in his neck bulging through the sun-ravaged skin. “I didn’t know what to say to him! I literally had nothing to say.”
For nearly 15 years, I’d been working as a glorified secretary for the same large pharmaceutical company, best known for being one of the world’s primary purveyors of boner pills. It was never any sort of a life I’d imagined for myself. When I first took the job, I figured it would be a temporary gig, something to pay the bills while I whacked away at the next great American novel – best laid plans and all that. It didn’t take very long before my existence helping to facilitate the tumescence of millions of flaccid cocks subsumed all other aspirations.
“I’m sorry I put you in that position, Parker,” I apologized, bowing my head.
Christ, what a drama queen. I mean, it’s not as if the guy was going to have to spend the entire night huddled in a grass hut somewhere out on the African veldt, covered head to toe in the doo doo of a thousand goat herders. Taking a deep breath, Jenkins sat forward, swiping a handful of white-blonde hair from his eyes. He was annoyed as hell about my gaffe, but I could tell there was something else on his mind; it was the way his lip curled up slightly on the right side of his face, revealing the sharpness of his incisor. He was definitely gnawing on something alright – either that or maybe he just had gas.
“Listen, Mel, we need to talk…it’s serious. I was going to leave it ‘til tomorrow, but we might as well discuss it now.” The metallic tone in his voice clopped me right in the nuts like a sock full of quarters. “I’m sure you’re well aware that the company has been forced to make some cuts to the budget this quarter?”
I gave a short, wary nod.
“There’s never an easy way to say this, so I’m just going to tell it to you straight – we’re letting you go,” he said with insulting nonchalance. “It was decided last week at our annual work plan meeting.”
Clasping my hands, I looked up into the ruddy face of that officious dipshit and struggled for an adequate response.
“I don’t understand…you’re firing me? Come on, Parker, I know I haven’t been at my best lately, but I can do better – I know I can.”
“I can’t say that I believe that at this point, I really can’t.” His left hand snapped over his desk in reflexive disgust, knocking over a framed family photo he’d taken while vacationing out on the Florida Keys. “We’ve had repeated conversations about your poor performance, and it’s failed to make any impact whatsoever. Every other week it’s something else. Just last Monday, you sent out a product announcement to all our clients where you actually misspelled the name of the product!”
My eyes fell to the photo – bunch of towheaded monkeys. They were all gathered together on the back of their chartered fishing boat, posing with a landed marlin; Jenkins was one of those micro-phallused bastards that got his rocks off by murdering defenseless animals. Thick blood oozed from its gills as they shot their bland, goyishe smiles at the camera. Catch of the goddamned day.
“So, I’m being fired over a typo,” I mumbled.
“It was a little more than that, Mel. I was cc’d on that e-mail! How do you think it reflected on me? I don’t understand how you could have been so galactically irresponsible. The drug’s called ReVIGator – not ReVAGitor!”
In my defense, it is a vaginal moisturizer…”
“I’m sorry.” He cut me off. “It’s unacceptable, completely unacceptable.”
You don’t understand,” I said in a panicky stutter. “This job is all I’ve got.”
“Mel, let’s not make this any more difficult than it needs to be.”
Fired, sacked, terminated…kaput. My head exploded with a rapid montage of images: soup kitchens, welfare lines, the unpaid bills stuffed in my mailbox, trawlers loaded with dead marlin, and my hands wrapped around Jenkins’ throat.
“Well, the last thing I’d want to do is make things difficult for you…God forbid!” I growled. “You’re sending me off to the abattoir, and I’m supposed to go quietly? That’s just beautiful. So I’ve had a few lapses in my performance, it could happen to anyone! Don’t I merit even a shred of loyalty for all the years I’ve put in? I have to tell you, Parker, this is all coming totally out of left field. Not once in the course of whatever conversations we may have had did you ever inform me that my goddamned job was on the line! I mean, if I’d only known…”
Pausing a moment to regain my composure, I looked him up and down, searching for a reaction – he was a statue…a towheaded, ruddy-faced statue.
“I understand that I made some mistakes, okay?” I continued, my voice pitching higher. “But can’t you give me a second chance? Remember all the times I got you coffee in the morning? I had to walk four extra blocks out of my way just to get the kind you liked. I only stopped going because I hurt my foot, but it’s better now! I can do better! Are you seriously just going to toss me out into the street…after 15 goddamned years? Jesus Christ, what the hell am I gonna do now!”
Jenkins raised a hand, palm forward, cracking a hollow smile. “C’mon, a smart guy like you? I know you’ll find something eventually.” Setting the photo upright on a precarious stack of overstuffed manila folders, he stretched back in his chair and crossed his legs. “Tell you what, why don’t you take the rest of the month off? You’ll still receive your pay check, I’ll make sure of that.”
Charitable son of a bitch…Mr. Noblesse fucking Oblige.
“Parker, please – don’t do this.”
“The decision is final, I really don’t know what else there’s left to say.”
I’d brought it all upon myself of course, taken my eye off the ball, assumed I was untouchable. It made no difference – the end result was the same. For years, I’d dreaded having to go into the office every day, demeaning myself with a job that I felt was so clearly beneath my capacities. Now that I faced the loss of stability that my steady – if not paltry – income afforded me, I wasn’t sure how I was going to survive. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
Reeling from shock, I remained seated for a few minutes more – partly because I wanted to make the farewell as uncomfortable as possible for Jenkins, but also because I knew that word of my demise had likely already begun to make the rounds amongst my confreres faster than burning gasoline on water. I couldn’t bear the idea of getting caught up in some post-mortem confab where I’d be forced to stand with a polite smile stuck to my face, nodding and shrugging my shoulders, while some mawkish dipsydoodle “sympathetically” picked over my carrion. As expected, it wasn’t long after I’d returned to my station that a short procession of sad-eyed busybodies passed by my open casket to pay their last respects.
“I tell ya, it’s a disgrace,” said a lifer from the mailroom. “They jus’ ain’t got no regard for folks our age.” The man had to be nearing 60 – I’d only recently turned 42.
“I can’t believe what they do to you,” moaned a skittish Filipino secretary named Pat. “What you gon’ do now? Nobody can find job no more.”
The remainder of the day passed by in slow motion while I hunched at my desk, grave thoughts sputtering within the flabby folds of my cerebrum. Around 4:55pm, I snatched off the imitation-wood placard velcroed to my cubicle wall – Mr. Melvin Williams, Project Assistant – collected my meager belongings into a medium-sized cardboard box, and bid the company a hushed adieu under my breath: “Fuck my fucking ass…you cocksucking fuckers.”
It took me all of five minutes to gather up the detritus of my decade and a half of dedicated service to the man.