Helen Douglas

Middle Management

There’s a clock on the wall, the near wall, that I can’t quite see, much as I angle my head about and shift in my chair. I’m going crazy trying to get a glimpse of the time, get my bearings. And then Smith stands up, easing his gammy leg no doubt, bloody war wound no doubt. Right in front of the clock. Across the way, Joe is rearing back, eyes rolling, foaming at the mouth. Maybe he’s been run too hard and put away wet. Or maybe he’s got something to say, something to get off that massive heaving chest of his.

Of course, it’s the conference room. Haven’t we been in here, stuck like pigs, since the day the world began? Same composite table, veneer peeling, same fake green leather seats on the metal frames that sway and shriek along with our minds in this interminable day at the office. What are we doing here? As if anyone knows. That’s the question no one’s going to ask, because if anyone’s redundant here, it’s the joker who’s going to ask out loud: What are we doing here? Number one mystery of the day, but it won’t be me. God knows, I wish I knew. Maybe it’s hell, or maybe it’s one of those hidden camera gag shows. Maybe hell is a hidden camera gag show.

The thing is, there are all these women. No, there are two women. They smile sweetly, bring us coffee, heels tapping brightly across the linoleum. Christ, my tie feels tight. They’re smiling, but they try not to let us see. There’s another woman behind the camera hidden behind the clock. She’s the one I’m trying to keep an eye on – on her face, and her hands as they sweep across. As if she holds the key to it all. As if, any minute now, she’ll come out with a reel of film under her arm and step down onto the table. We’ll put the lights down and she’ll set up the projector and we’ll see what it’s all been about, have a good laugh. And then we can all go home.

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