2 comments

Fiction American

He sat in his small one-desk office and stared at a jumbled spreadsheet. His station was pushed into a corner of the room with the locked door behind him. The unsympathetic numbers and glare from the monitor made his eyes burn. Another day, another report to run, and altogether another eight hours of life thrown away.

 On his desk were two monitors, a filled coffee cup that had grown cold, and a fake plant he had bought to liven up the mood in his office. It didn’t. His chair caused a dull ache he had grown to ignore and the occasional shift roused the pain that reminded him that he was not made to sit for so long. They kept the building cold. Too cold. He wore sweaters year-round, but his hands still clung to the temperature like a glass ashtray.

 An email dinged into his inbox with the attempted innocuous subject of, “Just checking in…”

He could already imagine the rest of it. Bill, just seeing where we’re at on the billing report I asked for last month. It’d go on to emphasize the importance of getting timely reports. Bill sighed and felt how sick he was of the backhanded reminders. He imagined all the scowls hidden by masked smiles and tired pleasantries. He went to reply, but only stared at his screen.

“I can’t do this anymore.”, he said quietly to himself. He leaned and pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. He balled his hand into a fist and hit his desk, just heavy enough to rattle the fake plant. He replied his apologies in the email. In truth, he knew that he was the one in the wrong. He had been hired and was being paid, handsomely so. It was no more management’s fault that the rest of society’s that kept him locked up here.

Bill looked at his to-do-list and realized he hadn’t come close to completing it. Due dates loomed, imagined arguments conjured in his head, and exasperation fell on him like so many sheets of cold rain. He felt the crushing responsibility of being the only employee in his department.

His desk phone rang, a noise that spiked anxiety in him these days, and he saw the caller ID plainly marked “Susan O”. He waited for three cycles, ring then silence, before he picked up.

“This is Bill!”, He said with a forced smile.

“Hey. So…I just got out of a meeting with James, and we need to gather a lot of data for a board meeting coming up. They’re interested in – “click. Bill dropped the handset on the receiver and groaned. His body shook, so flush with emotion that had been building up for a few months. The phone rang again. He didn’t pause this time.

“Hey Susan, sorry, I think our call got, uh… dropped.” He said with a nervous chuckle.

“I’ll have I.T. check that out. Anyway, we need…” he heard her but couldn’t listen. His contributions consisted of, “Uh-huh” and, “I see.” He furiously scribbled down indecipherable notes while they spoke. If someone had asked him what she said, he couldn’t have answered.

“Sounds good Susan, I’ll get right on that!” he said with a strained smile.

“Okay, thanks, bye.”, She said.

Still, he stayed unproductive. Every distraction offered him an oasis of ignorance to flee to. Every ding on his phone, every website, and every thought caused him to lose himself in his daydreams.

After a couple hours of doing nothing, he connected his earbuds to his phone and played a video from his favorite channel Paleo-Survival-Craft. He had seen this one before, but he watched it with as much intent as ever. It was one of their most popular videos, “How to Start a Fire With Nothing But Wood” The thumbnail showed a gruff mountain-shaped man with a pinched face. The glaring sunlight assaulted his squinted eyes. In the background was a fire along with the caption “Skill Level: Hard.” It wasn’t that hard, at least for Bill.

A soft knock sounded behind him. A minute passed and the door clicked open with a slow creep. Susan stood in the doorway with her master key in hand and a sheet of paper in the other. She saw that Bill had his phone propped up against his monitor. She balked and crossed her arms, leaning against the door frame.

“Ahem.” No answer. “AHEM!” Bill only laughed, the man in the video was smiling as well. “BILL!” she shouted. He shot a glance behind him to see a looming Susan, adorned with her patented scowl. He paused the video in a panic and yanked his earbuds out.

“Ye-Yes?” He said, shrinking in his chair.

“Get right on it, huh?” She looked more disappointed now, with her anger subsided. People slacking off was nothing new in this day and age, but she expected better from him. Bill had started his position in such high standing and had the prowess to back it up, yet his performance has declined steadily lately. This was the first time she’d seen evidence to the fact.

He looked away from her and realized he had a blank spreadsheet on his screen. “Only taking a little break. We get 15 minutes a day, right?” He looked back and saw her eyeing the same thing. He smiled meekly.

“Uh-huh… We’ll talk about this tomorrow. I was going to have you sign your time off request, looks like you forgot, but I can see you clearly have your hands full.” A coworker passed by behind her, doing his best to gather the rumor-fodder while staying inconspicuous. Bill clenched his fist after he passed. “You can forget about it, though. I just decided we’ll need all hands on deck for a while.” She ripped it up and put it in his trash. “And Bill — Keep this door open while you’re working.” Her heels clicked as she walked down the hall.

Bill had only offered apologies and head nods to what Susan said. He looked back to his phone which captured the freeze-frame of embers catching the kindling.

---

Bill slumped into his recliner in his one-bedroom apartment. Still in his work clothes, he undid his tie and threw it across the room; followed by his shirt and pants, and so on, until he was just in his undershirt and boxer briefs. He leaned back and stared up at the ceiling. The droning sound of the highway outside crept into his thoughts, disrupting them. He looked towards the yellowing blinds that held back a sea of incandescence. He squinted and loathed the heat it implied. His AC never kept up in the summer months.

He reached over to his side table and picked up Walden by Thoreau. Fiction had stopped giving him the escapism he’d been craving then. He searched for the passage he had highlighted the night before, the famous one. Ah, yes, there it was.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived…”

“Wow…” He said to himself. He felt his eyes water as a wave of his despair came to him. How long had he gone now without feeling like he had lived? How long would he go on feeling this way? That he was one of those desperate men leading a desperate life? How long had he felt dehumanized by the whole hellish bureaucratic system that seemed so uncaring towards everyone. How long had he felt the victim of advertisers and labor exploiters. How uncared for he felt by the masses that seemed so stuck in the fly traps of consumerism. No more.

“No more.” He whispered to himself. He wiped his eyes of their burgeoning tears. As if to mock him, his phone buzzed in the pants he’d chucked to the floor. He bent over and fished it out. It was a text reminding him that he needed to pay his electricity bill. “No more.” He said again. He got up, his heart raced and his face bore the grim reflection of an executioner on hanging day. He took his phone and chucked it at the floor as hard as he could. The screen cracked, but still displayed the reminder. He picked up his phone and retrieved a hammer from his toolbox. He raised it on high and swiftly smashed it. He felt as if he struck a ball and chain that had imprisoned him for years and years. “No more!”, he shouted with one final slam. Glass shattered and sprayed everywhere.

He took a deep and intoxicating breath. The kind of breath someone takes after hearing a “Not Guilty” verdict. He knew he was being manic, knew that he had finally snapped. If the anxiety of going to work tomorrow, only to be talked down to for a job he no longer cared for, was the maximum load for his mental state; his phone reminding him of his need for such a job to pay for ‘necessities’ was the additional weight that collapsed the mental framework of his coping mechanisms. He felt freer than he had in ages, and he needed more.

He looked around his apartment, hammer in hand, and hunted down anything that had a screen. The thermostat on the wall hit the floor with a crack. His desktop in his room, something he had sunk thousands of hours and dollars into, looked like the worlds stupidest paper weight to him now. Destroyed. He picked up the baseball bat he’d kept since he was a kid. He smiled to himself and walked calmly to his living room. There stood his TV, proudly asserting itself. The tube that fed him junk day in and day out. “Enough is enough.”

He reared up and made a home run out of it. It exploded in a shower of sparks, glass, and catharsis. He hollered in pure bliss and didn’t spare the boxes connected to it, consoles, cable box, it all had to go. Lifeless plastic littered his carpet; their origins indistinguishable from whence they came.

He looked at his work and examined the mess he’d made with a big dumb smile on his face. He felt as if he’d torn a leech from his soul. He recalled when he wondered how the Amish could live like they do. He used to ask that with a sense of rhetorical pity, but now he meant it with full sincerity.

A loud knock came from his front door. He moved towards it and opened It without hesitation. He was covered in sweat and wore only boxer-briefs, a grey undershirt, and also clutched a now dented aluminum bat in one hand. There stood his neighbor, tall fellow; he never learned his name. He looked both annoyed and confused. “Yes?” Bill asked with a smile.

The neighbor’s eyes flitted to the destruction laid bare behind Bill. He looked back at Bill’s sweat-covered face and down to his hands which still gripped the bat “You good?”

“Never better!” He said with a big smile.

“Uh, alright man, just take it easy, yeah?” He said, starting to back away without breaking eye-contact. He’d seen Bill around the complex, but his demeanor never suggested he’d be the type to take a bat to anything, even a baseball.

“Yeah, yeah! I’m all done, no worries. Oh- Say…”, he paused for a moment, “Actually, I’m moving out soon and I’d rather not take all this junk with me. I’m going to be gone tomorrow, but feel free to take whatever you want, yeah? There’s nothing left in here that I care for, so go for it!” He leaned against the doorway and smiled.

“I think I’m good, man, uh, but thanks.”, He looked at him nervously before backing up to his door, a few feet away.

“Suit yourself! Offer is open!”

The neighbor’s door closed, followed by the sound of a deadbolt click shortly after. Bill only chuckled to himself. He went inside, gathered a few tools and some snacks from his pantry, and loaded a backpack with a few clothes, his survival books, a bedroll, a small tent, and his car keys. He never closed his door on the way out.

---

Bill couldn’t stop laughing the first few minutes during the start of this new chapter in his life. He never knew how good giving up could feel. To let the weight of his constructed world shrug off the sides of his shoulders like a melting ice sheet on a metal roof, crashing into some oblivion beyond his responsibility. He felt as a free man, yet again, and his survival depended on him and him alone. Nothing but the wide world and adventure awaited him.

No more pointless payments, no more pointless job to pay pointless payments, and no more income to entice him into a suffocating world of buying things he didn’t need. Society can take back all that Bill had tried to claw for himself. He didn’t need it anymore. “Let the wolves eat my scraps. I’m out.” He thought to himself.

Bill loaded his car with his gear and drove to the office. The only people left for the day were the contracted cleaning crew. He badged himself into his office and considered deleting all of his data on all of his projects, just to be vindictive. There were pangs of guilt, though, and he felt it so beneath him now that it wouldn’t impact his life anymore. He typed up his resignation letter and signed it with a smiley face.

“To Whom It Should Concern,

I grew up in a small town with never many aspirations for anything. I knew what made me happy and I knew what made me sad. My days were simple; do what needed to be doing and have fun doing it. Most of the time what needed doing was precisely just having fun, as well. I was young and ignorant of all the stresses of life, as kids should be. I was an avid reader and I enjoyed listening to stories my aunts and uncles all told each other. I was always a listener. These are things I hold as core to who I am.

The trouble all started when I went to school. Even as a kid I could tell that our teachers were overworked and stressed, though I didn’t know it by those words at the time. There’s a fundamental difference between an adult who is doing something because they want to and doing something because they must. It’s not imperceptible either, but it’s easy to ignore if you feel stuck in that same way yourself. As school went on, they start to impose these feelings onto you. About needing to find your niche, to find your purpose and to fill a certain role in society. I wonder now what those teachers would’ve preferred to do with their time. Their precious time.

It ramps up in high school, and even more so if you graduate without having a solid idea of what you want to do with your life. And how could anyone? Nothing is ever what it is on the brochure. It feels like we’re all living a TV Dinner-ifed version of reality, where what you see on the box is always going to be ten times better than what you get. So instead, we pick majors in hopes that what we chose will end up being fulfilling. It’s only a twenty plus thousand dollar gamble with potential consequences for a near majority of your life, right?

Anyway, you’re probably eager for me to get to the point. Honestly, I am too. As you know, this is an at-will state, praise God, so I’m expressing my right as an at-will employee to terminate my employment effective immediately.

If my candor has piqued your interest as to what my future plans are, you can look for me in Florida and ask me if you find me. Please do not call, I no longer have a phone. No mail, either; I no longer reside at my documented residence.

I mean no disrespect to my coworkers, but life is too short and too precious for me to waste here.

All the best,

Bill Willard :)”

Bill slid the note under Susan’s door and smiled as he walked out. He felt his letter was as honest and responsible as he felt like he owed. He did lie, though, he knew that much. He’d never go to Florida even if his life depended on it. He was heading to the opposite direction, actually. He had heard once that there was a trail from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada. He’d be a modern day pilgrim, he decided, on the trail to rediscover what it means to be human. To experience nature and reality with his five senses. To escape from the discordant hivemind of the internet and to return to the humanity he lost when he grew up. 

February 10, 2023 06:01

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Kevin V
01:28 Feb 16, 2023

Overall, Reece, I really liked this story. I'm not a fan of the beginning so much because the point of view switched between Susan and Bill, once in mid-paragraph. Also, when Susan called Bill we didn't know it was her until a paragraph or so later when she called back. That threw me a bit. Then when Bill interacted with his neighbor I found it a little hard to follow. The dialogue sounded too much alike to figure out who was who, and I think the POV changed there as well. But I really loved the narrative from when Bill got to his apartme...

Reply

Reece York
14:07 Feb 17, 2023

Thank you for your insight! I agree with the issues you mentioned. I think you're right that I didn't really feel into the story until around the apartment scene. It's cool that you spotted that and it's a great lesson for me that the reader can tell when you're not quite into the narrative. Thank you for reading! Looking forward to improving with your tips!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.