by Ted Lietz
On the appointed day, we returned to our deep-cleaned office building. As HR instructed, we social-distanced and washed hands frequently. And we wore company-provided masks with a tasteful logo in the corner.
Except Emerson. He used his own mask, which appeared to show a human jaw with the skin torn away, revealing muscle and bone.
Emerson was no zombie, but he was a shit-disturber. I wished I could’ve worn a mask like his. Coached him as he fine-tuned that imitation of my boss. Helped him collect the nameplates of “furloughed” co-workers which, in a sort of memorial, he velcroed to a wall near his cubicle.
But I had a mortgage, two kids in college and two car payments. As Emerson’s manager, the most I could do was pretend not to notice.
One morning, checking to see that the department dispenser of hand-sanitizer was full, I saw Emerson point a floodlight at the names and then walk away. Without mentioning the wall, I was going to tell him to remove the light. Say it violated some company rule, which it probably did.
Before I could do that my boss appeared a safe distance away. “What do you know about that wall?”
He pointed. “Over there. Who’s responsible?”
I squinted and then shook my head. “I’ll look into it. Probably no one will own up, though.”
“Horrible for morale. Get rid of the nameplates.”
He was about to leave when Emerson returned from wherever he’d been to add a new nameplate.
“Emerson.” I forced a chuckle. “Department crazy uncle. Harmless. Like you said, I’ll be sure the nameplates are removed.”
“Absolutely. But not right away. That guy is not a team player. Fire his ass. Then add his nameplate to the wall. Leave it for a while. Make a point.”
“You know Human Resources.” I rolled my eyes. “Bureaucrats and nitpickers. The wall won’t be enough for termination. All kinds of hoops to jump through.”
“Limber up, then. This Emerson goes. Make it happen.”
Over the next few months, I gave Emerson impossible goals and documented his failure to meet them. Wrote of minor lapses as if they threatened civilization. Eventually, I had everything Human Resources would require.
“Write it up,” my boss said. “Email the memo to HR before you leave tonight.”
By the time I finished, the office was dark except for the glow of my computer screen, some faint perimeter lights and Emerson’s floodlight.
The floodlight began to flicker, strobing the wall.
Suppose I deleted the memo? Wrote Emerson a commendation glowing enough to bullet-proof him, at least for a while?
HR wouldn’t let my boss fire me for that. Eventually, though, he’d find another reason.
Why wait? Why not clean out my office that night? Formally join Emerson’s team? Velcro my own nameplate to that wall?
Make a point.
The floodlight burned out with a quiet pop.
I emailed the original memo.
On the way out, I stopped at the hand-sanitizing station and gave my palms and fingers a good going-over. Then I took Emerson’s nameplate and dropped it in a dumpster.
It was the least I could do.
If stories set in an office environment interest you, you may also want to read:
Darwin’s Monkey: Phil was my boss. Was my boss. No official announcement, but reliable word had been out…Read more
Raptured: Here’s how shit-canning works at our shop. Near the end of the day one is summoned to a conference room…Read more
Squashing a Grasshopper: Usually by this time, Darwin and I had the place to ourselves. But on that day, a security guard stood near as Darwin dropped personal belongings into a cardboard box…Read more
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.