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08 April 2008 @ 03:45 pm
original short story  
title: POLITE SOCIETY
word count: approx. 2,649
rating: pg-13
a/n: a man and his job.

I sit at my desk, hair still a bit damp from the morning’s ferocious downpour, fiddling with the design I’ve been working on for a new line of shampoo and conditioner from Vidal Sassoon. There’s something more it needs at this stage, and I’m not sure what it is, so I’m employing my tried and true method of trial and error by taking a trip all the way down Photoshop’s filters menu, one by one. I hit a couple that are just alright, but I’m too picky to rest on them, and I keep going.

In a surge of predictability, my cubicle neighbor and fellow Project Manager, the incorrigibly nosy Stacy Kefner, slides into my workspace as though she has something to tell me and then makes a big show of becoming distracted by my computer screen. She studies the image I’m working on briefly, then raises an eyebrow and eyes me judgmentally.

“Tristan, sweetie... You know I love your designs, but that filter? Really? Everyone knows Bas Relief is the ugliest filter ever created...”

I attempt to channel my exasperation through my eyes and hope my face conveys to her what a huge moron she is, despite the fact that this has failed numerous times in the past. To back up whatever expression I’ve concocted, I add flatly, “Thank you for your input, Stacy, I had no idea. Did you need something?”

“Oh, right. Well, everyone knows you have this great sense of style, right? So I was wondering if you could maybe give me some tips on what kind of thing would look good on me for a sort of hip, evening-out-on-the-town type of thing. I never know what looks good on me, you know?”

I self-consciously remove the Bas Relief filter from the image I’m working on while she’s talking. I should have known she came over for something like this, I think wearily. It’s never anything serious or productive with Stacy, and although I like my goofing-off time just as much as the next guy, the wide-eyed redhead isn’t the first person on my list of coworkers I would want to spend it with. When I listen to her, visions of my college roommate’s girlfriend superimpose themselves over her and prove themselves to be eerily similar, right down to the upturned ends of all her sentences and the shirts that emphasize her muffin-top enough to make you wonder if she owns a full-length mirror.

“Oh, uh.. alright, I guess so. Where are you going?” I ask.

“Down to Jetta’s. That’s what Anita said, anyway.”

“... Anita’s going too?” I wonder out loud before I can stop myself.

“Oh, um, yeah. Charlie, Yvonne, and Meg too. I thought someone might have told you, so...” She becomes visibly awkward, and I can feel myself doing the same. Anita and Charlie are my best friends at work, and although we’ve been drifting recently, it still comes as a disappointing surprise to me that something like this would happen. I try to remember the last time the three of us went out together for lunch or after hours, and while I expect to find myself thinking It feels like it was just the other day, I wind up having trouble recalling what our last outing was. My guts churn a bit, and the shroud of malaise hanging over me gains more purchase.

“Don’t worry about it,” I say after a dead pause. “I’m pretty busy anyway. This whole Vidal Sassoon thing.”

“Yeah,” Stacy says, pulling at a string that hangs from the hem of her knockoff couture jacket. Our intense mutual wish for this entire conversation to end is as palpable in the air as the thick scent of Stacy’s slutty perfume. It’s times like these when a guy wishes people didn’t feel some societally installed need to wrap up every conversation neatly, that they would be okay with just walking off when things got ugly.

Fortunately, Stacy isn’t able to handle much more of the unease, and she makes a quick excuse about the bathroom or something before heading off at a brisk trot in a direction which is blatantly opposite to that of her proclaimed destination. I take a deep breath and try to refocus, continuing my exploration of the painfully familiar filters menu until I’ve exhausted my options there. I shift objects around on their layers. I change the font. I change the text’s opacity. Nothing seems to be working, nothing is coming together. In a job I thought I could do with my eyes closed, that I thought came like breathing to me, I find myself grappling for the confidence and vision I know I used to have in order to finish one lousy ad.



Two weeks later, I receive an email from my boss, Yvonne, asking me to meet with her in the afternoon. It’s already been a hell of a day; Stacy has dropped a snotty comment concerning me possibly needing a deadline extension on the Vidal Sassoon project, Anita has continued to ignore my instant messages for the third day in a row, and the heel of my right shoe is coming apart. I know better than to trust Prada leather, and they were exorbitantly expensive, but I had been bitter with myself and the world the day I bought them due to missing the morning bus for the fourth time in a row and being forced to sit through a stern talk from Yvonne addressing my continual issues with being on time. When I saw those shoes in the store that evening, they looked so appealing that I wanted to place them over my heart as a bandage and tell myself everything was alright because I could have these ridiculous material things. No one was there to stop me. When I got home, Brendan had asked me what those silly things on my feet were. I didn’t have an answer for him.

I don’t have an answer for Yvonne either, when she asks me if I really want to be here at 180 Degree Graphics. I’ve come to her office just as she asked me to, after a shitty lunch of chips and Pepsi, and I find myself wishing I hadn’t eaten at all because I feel like I could be sick on her desk if I tried hard enough. The feeling grows with each new thing she says, each new question she asks. Is there a reason why I continually ignore my deadlines? Have I been having problems with my coworkers? Why can’t I get to work on time? Do I have problems with motivation? Am I having problems at home? I attempt to answer each of these as honestly as I can without condemning myself, but the words come out halted and guilty, sounding like high school excuses. It’s not that I ignore my deadlines, I just have trouble focusing sometimes and I fall behind without meaning to. I suppose my coworkers and I have gotten a little distant, but people change. I’m working on being on time more often, it’s just difficult since Brendan goes to work before me now and he can’t get me up anymore. I’ve talked to a counselor about my motivational issues, and it’s a problem I’m still working to confront. No, things at home are fine, better than anywhere else actually. I wish fervently that I could be at home right this second, laying around on the couch with Brendan, watching a B movie and eating something delicious and horrible for my health.

When Yvonne apologizes and fires me ten minutes later, I purse my lips, sit in silence for a long moment, then nod and get up to return to my cubicle. The cloud of impending disaster that had settled around me dissipates and is replaced with a surreal haze, and the surreality only grows to dumbfounding levels when I reach my workspace to find Charlie already replacing my things with his own. Does this really happen? I think. Aren’t there rules about this sort of thing? Charlie gives me one of those apologetic smiles that’s more like a grimace as he places a box of my odds and ends at my feet, then waves at Yvonne from where she’s watching in her office doorway. She looks back at him smittenly, and the rumors I had heard about the two of them sleeping together catapult to the front of my mind. My heart spontaneously hardens into something bitter and cold. If she wanted to fire me and give Charlie my job as Project Manager, they all could have been more subtle about it. It’s as though they don’t care whether I know what’s really going on or not.

An indignant protest almost makes its way out of my mouth, but just as the memory of the rumors came rushing back, so does the memory of everything Yvonne had just grilled me with in her office. All the questions she had asked me were legitimate. In my opinion, my work is good enough to make up for my shortcomings, but those same shortcomings would make it difficult to make a case for myself if I wanted to contest the true reason Yvonne fired me. I stand still and fume while Charlie gives me a strange look.

Once I’m able to pull myself together, I get my things rounded up as fast as I can and get out of there. Allowing myself a luxury since I have so much unexpected baggage, I hail a cab and wind up sitting dejectedly looking out the window while the driver talks to himself. The sun shines at me obnoxiously, and I glare back at it as though it were Stacy Kefner.

We reach my apartment, and I pay for the cab and stagger precariously into the building and up the stairs with my two boxes of belongings. My damned right shoe bothers me the whole time. As I fumble around for my key in front of the door, the top box slides from its perch and hits the floor as I watch it helplessly. The stuff that was inside scatters everywhere, and two picture frames shatter, covering the landing in a minefield of cheap glass. I blink slowly and stare at the mess in blank disbelief. My two sisters return the stare, albeit much more happily, from a photo underneath its wrecked frame. I put down the other box of stuff and rescue the photo from its prison, along with the other trapped picture of myself and Brendan, before unlocking the door to my apartment and tiredly entering.

I shut the door behind myself, deciding to ignore the disaster outside for the moment (may people go ahead and steal from the wreckage what they will) in favor of toeing off my godawful shoes and slumping down into the couch. My mind isn’t able to wrap around what will happen to me now, what I should do. I’ve never been fired before. I feel like I’m stuck in a chick flick. Too overwhelmed to deal with the thought of past, present, or future, I lie down, drop the photos on the floor, and let myself fall into a forlorn sleep.



As I sleep, I dream. I find myself in a large, dark old mansion, filled immediately with the desire to run and hide. Something is chasing me, I think. I make my way down the hallway, boards creaking under my feet and dusty spiderwebs clinging to my face; I’m unable to really look around, which is the way it usually goes in dreams. As I duck into a small room hoping to lock the door and hide myself, I’m shocked to discover Charlie on the other side of the door, partially obscured by gloomy shadows. Do you know how to get out of here? I ask him. He smirks at me and replies, Maybe I do. There’s a loud bang at the door then, and I look frantically over my shoulder and then back at Charlie. You have to tell me, I say. Do you want me to die? He shrugs and stands there smugly with his hands in his pockets before saying, If you could run fast enough, you wouldn’t need my help.

But I can’t, I think, suddenly feeling winded and weak. The door bursts open loudly behind me, and it’s Yvonne, though it doesn’t look like her. She’s pale and wrapped in torn grey fabric that makes her look like a desolate cypress tree risen up out of a swamp. I’m going to die now, I think as she rushes forward, the dust from her clothes and the musty odor of fungus filling my nostrils when I’m crushed between her and Charlie. There’s a flash of light, and out of the corner of my eye I can see Stacy taking a photo of the three of us.



I wake up to the sound of Brendan opening the door as he arrives at home. He’s mumbling something about the disaster outside, obviously confused. I slowly right myself and rub the bleariness out of my vision as he takes his shoes off and sets down his shoulder bag. He’s adorably disheveled as usual, black hair sticking out in rebellious cowlicks in what looks like an attempt to escape from his head and shirt slightly wrinkled from sitting balled up in the hamper of clean laundry since the day it last got cleaned. He pokes his glasses back up his nose the way he does at least a hundred times a day and gives me a concerned, quizzical look.

“I got fired,” I tell him before he can ask any questions.

“What? Oh my god,” he replies, brows furrowing as he makes his way over to the couch to sit down next to me. He picks up the two photos from where I had dropped them by the couch after he almost steps on them. “Why? I mean, what reason did they give you? Was it Yvonne who did it?”

“If I couldn’t run fast enough to save myself, would you help me?” I blurt out, staring intently at a place on the upholstery between my knees and beginning to pick at some dead skin around my thumbnail.

“Excuse me?”

“Just... nevermind.”

“I mean, yeah, of course I would. Why would you think I wouldn’t, you know? What’s this about, Tristan? What happened at work?” I steal a glance at him, and the mixture of worry, confusion, and impatience in his face is more than enough to send me right back to my view of the couch cushion.

“Bullshit happened,” I mutter, and inside I feel all over again just how true that is.

x-posted to createxpression
 
 
 
yeah_itsme: good eatin'yeah_itsme on April 14th, 2008 03:23 am (UTC)
"Our intense mutual wish for this entire conversation to end is as palpable in the air as the thick scent of Stacy’s slutty perfume." heh.

good story. I like the end a lot.