The first and, for the rest of the afternoon, only person to offer James their condolances was Joanne, but, as evidenced from the way she fluttered her eyelashes and constantly smiled and laughed at his jokes, however small, the only reason she even spoke to him on the afternoon of his disgrace - for it was four forty-five and almost mail time - was because she was interested in him, no matter how unlikely a romance between a compulsive 'neat-freak' and a new-age hippie could be under any circumstances, let alone in a working environment where relationships, even of the friendship variety, were not encouraged.
-I'm sorry you are going and I wish you weren't, she said to him, resting her hand comfortably and with great familiarity upon his shoulder as though, now that the enforced platonic, boring friendships of office life were over, they could form a true and strong relationship outside of work, even though, as most people know, work relationships last exactly as long as the two people are working at the same place and not a second longer.
-Thank you, Joanne, he answered, gently shrugging off her hand and moving his body slightly away to look out the window in an effort to remove himself from the need to be touched, and to make his body less receptive to such touches, but this message did not make its way through the twenty- seven inches seperating James' and Joanne's minds, and perhaps, therefore, souls; She stepped closer towards him and took his arm once more, interlocking her fingers with his and squeezing while his hand remained limp and dead, like a fish at a market. -Listen, I need to get my things packed up, and...
-I understand, she said, sounding for all the world as if she meant it, clearly disregarding the fact that she had commenced this particular job, at which she was by far and away the most efficient accounts officer they had ever had, the very same week in which she completed her degree, with top honours, thus never having experienced the true joys of unemployment, nor the life-rejuvenating rush that comes with having to suddenly and quickly change her place of occupation, or the heart-ache.
-I'd like to be alone.
-I understand, she repeated, not letting go of his hand and in fact moving closer, deciding that, while he said he wanted to be alone, what he truly meant was that he needed comfort from her and nobody else, in particular, not from Therese, who also, for whatever reason, seemed to fancy the generally quiet and unreceptive James; It took him a few more repetitions of this fact before she finally was able to take the hint, but this could probably be attributed more readily to his moving further and and forcibly removing his hand from hers and putting them both rather firmly into his pockets.
Alone now, or as alone as any man can be when he has just been fired in an office full and buzzing with the iminent arrival of five o'clock on a Friday afternoon, especially when each and every single person in the office, and there would be at least fifty of them, all know that he has been fired, and what he has been fired for, and that they agree with the decision from the Directors, a rare occurance when all is said and done, as support staff do not generally like to agree with their superiors, who earn a lot more money than they ever will and thus cannot be in touch with their employees' humble lives. Here and there the brown and blonde and sometimes black hair of various workers could be seen poking up out of their respective cubicles to have a quick glance at the disgraced PA; James found each person's head with unerring accuracy and they felt this, and ducked, not willing to make eye contact with a person with whom, only three hours ago, many had shared a rather rowdy lunch down at the local pub, toasting to each other's health and prosperity, a toast that clearly only lasted until said person was outed from the apparently not so strong social circle known as the office.
Into the first box he placed the aforementioned photo-frame and book, declining to include the flowers which he instead threw out as they had been purchased with the sole intent of proving to Stacey, a receptionist on one of the lower floors, that he could be a sensitive new age man, something that apparently every single girl wanted but, in his experience, when this mythical man actually presented themselves like a piece of fruit for the taking, would be rejected and discarded from thought because, there in the corner, shrouded in darkness, by himself, was a seemingly dangerous man dressed entirely in leather and what looked to be enough steel to build a house and enough ink from his tattoes to dye a thousand pairs of pants. He also added to this book a number of pens, pencils, erasers, rulers, compasses, post-it notes, notebooks, scissors, and markers that he knew, once he was home and unable to use the company's stationery, that he would absolutey positively need for personal use.
In the second box, smaller and decorative, with flowers and ribbons gracing its sides, a gift from his ailing grandmother who, in what she considered her last few years of life, had decided that her grandchildren needed a steady trickle from her fifty-year collection of knick-knacks and trinkets that she had acquired from years of aimless traveling with a man who was too rich to pay attention to her but not rich enough to marry a woman thirty years younger, he placed the now folded drawings from his niece, the drawings he hadn't once really honestly looked at. James had learnt, in a long discussion with his grandmother that probably would not have been so long had she decided against including twenty second pauses between each and every syllable, that her only aim in life now was to unload her mammoth collection of expensive worthless junk before she died, and if that meant that James had to receive a package a day filled with boxes and plates and egg-cups and doilies and cutlery and china cats and terracotta angels, then so be it. This had almost no bearing upon the contents of the box, that being his nieces drawings, but for some reason he could not bring himself to think about the array of smiling suns and people with arms coming from their heads gracing the clean white paper inside. -Garish, he said to himself when he received them, but to his niece, an angelic little girl of five, in that 'angelic' meant she was apt to put on her best and brightest face for the adults, but the second their backs were turned she would assume her true face, that of a monster from nightmares, and assault her littler brothers and sisters, tormenting them so much that they cried when she so much as walked by, to her great pleasure, he said that they were wonderful, a true work of art, worthy of Picasso, an artist she didn't know and wouldn't appreciate, but his strange name with the pees and the esses she quite enjoyed being compared to.
He didn't have an appropriate third box but he still had possessions that needed to be neatly sorted away and have a lid put upon them so he scouted about the office letting the half-hearted and embarassed sorry's and we- wish-it-was-us-not-you's wash off his back like the proverbial duck + water + back. Eventually he found one, but it was full of some other papers that didn't concern him, and, considering that since he was fired it wasn't really his responsibility to be looking after the quality control of the paper-flow, that it would be quite alright if he were to simply dump the paper in the air, and how was it his fault if, instead of nice blue carpeted ground below, there was a rather large and hungry paper shredder just waiting to be fed? Into this now empty box he placed the various other accessories to office life, then he placed those three boxes into another, greater box that he had been saving just for this ocassion. It was plain and brown, like all good cardboard should be, and not decorated with flowers, which all good cardboard should not be.
Before leaving he decided to visit the rest-room one last time, after all, toilet paper was expensive, moreso when you take into consideration that James lived with a female who, what with her feminine necessities, seemed to drink the toilet paper they had at home, so it made a lot of sense to him to take care of whatever business needed to be taking care of in the office, for free, before he left, forever.
Inside the antiseptically white rest-room he gazed into the mirror, scratching the left side of his chin, then, realising that he had once again been tricked by the inherent duplicity of mirrors, scratched the right side of his face, which was, humorously, the right side of his face, where there was a small pimple. His hair fell over his face just like he had told it to this morning, but now it had a sort of dullish glow to it, like the gold in Fort Knox, only his hair wasn't worth nearly as much and the look that he was actually going for involved an exponentially more brilliant glow, which unfortunately he was far from achieving right now. Taking a deep breath and steadying himself for the inevitable failure that often seemed to be his destiny to receive, he toussled at his hair with his fingers, aiming for that just-got-out-of-bed look that always seemed so natural on others but of course took a lot longer than almost any other hair style a person could think of. He failed. His hair was now not only glowing dully like gold but now had the look of just-been-toussled-by- fingers-when-it-sh ouldn't-have, not the look he was going for.
He removed himself to a cubicle toilet, interestingly the cubicle was identical to the cubicles out in the office where people worked, except for the fact that it was half the size and had a toilet inside, not a computer. The next twenty minutes he spent leisurely, occupying himself with a certain event, called an act of nature by some and a trip to the throne by others, taking the time to enjoy himself and not rush anything, just in case, and here he closed his eyes and said a prayer to a God he didn't believe in on the off chance that it would help him, that he would rupture something in his hurry, an unfortunate occurance that had happened once before and had ever since made him very careful of toilets, in particular ones that he was not overly familiar with, which for some reason included this toilet even though, including today, he had been working for this one company for almost two years.
Thirty minutes later, if you include the time taken to wash his hands and touch up his hair again, which didn't work, James emerged from the toilets a new man, looking as fresh as a day old tomato and only half as red. The office was noticeably quieter now, the lights were off except for a few brief patches where the cubicle dwellers worked on, probably far into the night to complete a product that not a single one would ever benefit from, or care about if they didn't create it with their own two hands. His newly old Director's office was locked and shut tight, the light was off, he assumed the phone diverted. Even the big man himself had left for the night, clearly wanting to avoid an awkward and mostly pointless goodbye between the firer and firee; James was happy with this, collecting his big box with the three little boxes, which rattled inside, and the items inside the boxes inside the box, they too rattled.
The elevator ride from the seventh floor in which, until one hour ago, James had been employed, and happily, was slow and uneventful, as every single elevator ride in the history of the universe had been for James, excluding one where the elevator phone had rung and he had picked up the phone, answered hesitantly, then explained to the just as confused man on the other end that he had a wrong number, and an elevator wrong number at that. The elevator dinged on the basement level, James carefully carried the box at chest height, with his hands, enjoying the relative lightness of it but disliking the size, and walked down the rows and rows of cars to find his own.
Near the high level employees car spaces, on the ground, hardly breathing, was his Director. The man was over fifty if he was a day, and unfit, no matter how often he declared to anyone who would listen that he spent five hours every day in the gym and it was hardly his fault if the weight wouldn't come off. Here and there the buttons on the Director's shirt gaped open to reveal a fish white belly with greasy black hairs that protuded forth like they had something to proclaim to the world, and something horrible at that.
-Are you alright, Sir? James asked, but the Director did not answer. The man's breathing was irregular and slow, he put down the box with boxes inside by the Director's foot and pressed his ear against the man's nebulously fleshy chest, not exactly sure what it was he was supposed to be listening for but listening intently all the same. Badoom...Badoom...Badoom...B adoom, James assumed that this was the man's heart, unable to handle the admittedly mammoth task of pumping blood from one end of the Director's before-now impressively large frame, which was at the moment dangerously large.
He remembered reading or hearing somewhere that he should beat the man on the chest, and, to be frank, this was an action that James was perfectly willing to do anyway, what with the firing earlier. Bam! He punched down and then listened again, but it sounded the same. Mouth to mouth didn't seem like the greatest of plans, but, given the circumstances, that is, that James had no idea what he was doing, it seemed like a good idea. inching down on the Director's nose and opening his mouth, James lowered his face to the man's fleshy lips, closing his eyes as though they were lovers and exhaling for all he was worth.
Ten minutes passed this way, with James alternating between pounding upon the Director's chest and life-kissing him, one he enjoyed and the other he hated, but as far as he was concerned, both needed doing. Eventually, after what seemed like a thousand years but was really only eleven minutes and twenty-eight seconds, the Director coughed and splutted, opening his eyes right into James', which were an inch apart, clear and bright, and they stared for a moment, lips locked, bodies entwined, silent.
-Get off me!
-Sorry, sir, I... James began, sitting and then standing up, dusting himself off and attempting to dust off the Director, an irrelevant gesture as the man had not a speck of dust upon his body, oddly.
-You saved my life? The Director asked, looking about as though, somewhere in the darkness there was a team of doctors and nurses and ambulance workers who had actually saved him but were now letting James take the spot- light for whatever reason.
-Yes, sir, I saw you here, and
-You saved me? You?
-Yes, I looked after you, almost funny really, what with you saying I couldn't look after you to save your life, and here we are...
The Director got to his feet, huffing and puffing, his face red twice over, once from embarassment at the intimate moment they had shared and once from the fact that he was three weeks from being dead from a massive heart- attack, then turned away, feeling for his keys in his pocket.
-Thank you, James.
-What is it? The Director found his keys, made them beep and then the car flash in response, opened the driver side door and sat inside, grunting and muttering with the exertion, not once looking at James. -What is it?
-Well, sir, I was thinking, now that I saved your life, maybe I could, have my job back?
From deep inside his excessively large car the Director looked into James' eyes, the first time since they had shared a moment that generally only twelve and thirteen year old teenagers share in parks with the sun setting over the mountains, far away, with snow on the top, and sighed.