It was a Monday. Had to be, right? Does anyone like Mondays, I mean really? They say God rested on the seventh day. Well, my theory is that on the 8th day, a Monday, he got depressed, realised it was all an over-ambitious mistake, and has never been seen since. Anyway, Sally was her name, Sally Doormat. Not her real name, you understand, but you get the picture. She was a mouse, chestnut hair in a bob, fascinated by the carpet or her shoes when you spoke to her. The top button of her cardigan was never undone despite the lousy air-conditioning, and she always said "Yes" at work, desperate to keep her shitty little office pool job like it meant something.
But then there were her eyes.
Okay, so I had a crush on her. Like I was ever going to do anything about it, and even if I was, Glenda, unofficial head-bitch in the pool, protected Sally as best she could, glaring razors in my direction whenever she caught me staring in Sally's.
Well, Sally and the rest of us worked for this super-creep, Mr. Gisley, no prizes for guessing what we called him, never found out his first name, not sure he had one. Should have been drowned at birth -- is that why at baptisms they have the water-thing, you know, the font, in case the priest realises it's a big mistake? Anyway, Gisley was slug-fat, thick red-rimmed glasses, wore different coloured braces every day, like anyone cared. Slimed his way round the building. Oily polite, persuading you to do jobs for him and eat shit, but soon as he left, you tasted it.
So, we all worked in an open plan office, like millions the world over: computer screens, keyboards, phones that only receive incoming calls, that computer ozone smell like coins, tinged with machine-substitute coffee, competing with strong perfumes staking out territory between too-close desks. A roomful of repressed women spending their pittance of a salary on pathetic attempts to power dress and get noticed, channelling their untapped energies and hormones into mouse-clicks and keystrokes, a nine-till-five cicada symphony. I imagined the monotonous rattle of a wheezing organisational behemoth, going nowhere, processing lives, like a more boring version of The Matrix. You get the picture, right?
Sally kept her desk real tidy -- I mean operating-theatre tidy. Even had her own insipid mouse pad from some crusty aunt or other, a photo of a rustic old English pub with a garden. She said it made it seem like home. Poor cow, as if anything here could seem like home. So, slime ball always turned up at five minutes to five, you know, like some bosses do, having sat on their fat asses all day masturbating their egos on the phone in their frosted-glass offices, suddenly realising they've done nothing, no 'output', and need to send out a memo to show that they were, in fact, there. She always used to put up the pretext of a defence, at least initially, like last Friday.
"But Mr Gisley, I need to catch the bus; it's my mother you see, she's really not well."
He let her trail on for a while, then out flooded the horseshit excuses, dressed in toilet paper apologies, and she sat back down, typed out his memo, and missed her bus. Guys like him do it because they don't have a life, have no real influence, can't get a girl, so stealing someone's personal time is revenge on an unfair world, which apparently makes some men fat, slimy and mean, and unattractive to women. Maybe they're right, I mean you'd think those slob traits would get bred out of humanity by natural de-selection, but some fool marries them and keeps us all in the shit.
Sally had been quieter than usual on Monday, and Glenda dragged it out of her at lunchtime -- her mother had died in hospital Friday evening, and poor Sally had missed her last moments with the only real relationship in her whole life because of some fat asshole's jerk-off memo.
So, Monday 4.55 p.m. comes around, way too slow as usual, and in he crawls like a tide you mistakenly think you can outrun. But her desk is clear, even the mouse pad is gone, and she's standing there, coat and all, staring at the screen, then at him, square in the face.
"Er ... Sally?" He starts to blather, half-smiling in a vaguely threatening way, arching his eyebrows towards her seat. We all notice, and time slows in the office, punctuated by the decelerating keypresses as we strain to capture this moment, sensing a rare epiphany of secretarial redemption. Phones ring unanswered.
He starts to shake his flaccid little piece of paper towards her, mumbles some words: I catch "urgent," "appreciated," and "commitment". He points to her desk. She points to her screen. He frowns and leans forward, pushing his glasses back up his nose so he can focus, planting two pudgy fists on her desk.
That's when I notice -- because someone behind me whispers "Holy shit!" -- that I have an email. We all do. From Sally. It's the official 'worked-hours' log, which she manages for the whole department. The neat little excel sheet shows Gisley's attendance -- or lack of it. Absences every day over the past month, sometimes a couple of hours, sometimes like he clocked in then clocked out again and was gone all day. I have to wedge my finger in my mouth to stop bursting out loud with laughter. Sally's been real clever, too: she must've noted all his office-based calls over the past month and mapped the 'absences' to fall between them -- he can't disprove it. The email isn't addressed to me and the other sec's, it's to the CEO, with us on blind copy, sent at 4:54:59pm.
I hear Gisley gasp, his bulky arms near-collapse. He starts to blather. "Sally, ch-change it! I was here! Sit down right this minute and --"
She takes a step towards him, and unaccustomed as he is to any woman approaching him, he freezes -- fear, anger, and confusion competing in his bloated, reddening face.
"NO," she says, with tombstone finality.
I get it. He stole her time, she returned the favour.
His lips quiver, oscillating somewhere between a terrified smile and a grimace. "Please, Sally!"
She walks straight past him, never glancing back. He watches her leave, open-mouthed. No sound in the office now except her receding footsteps, each one an exclamation mark tattooing her "No" into the office walls, her final keystrokes, merging with the sound of my pounding heart. As they fade, and we hear the outer door slam, Gisley turns to me with desperate eyes, but I yank the power cord from my machine, grab my things and hurry to the door after her.
Glenda is standing by the exit, and for a horrid moment I think she's going to stop me, but she smiles, pulls open the door for me, and whispers as I pass, "Go get her."
Article © Barry Kirwan. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-02-27
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.