“Redundant?” Harry asked. He melted into the plastic chair that had replaced the usual metal one, in front of the boss’s desk.
“Yes, Harry. I’m very sorry. The company is cutting back. The decision was made based on sales. It’s nothing personal.” The man brought in to give the news wore a plain white shirt and a soft smile. “You’ll receive a year and a half of your salary in the redundancy package. The company will provide you with a glowing reference. This action is not taken maliciously. It is simply to cut costs, now that the firm is in administration.”
“I see.” Sweat patches had formed under Harry’s armpits.
“You will be expected to clean out your desk within the hour and leave the building. If you could leave your key card at the front desk or post it in later.”
“Alright.” Wind whistled between Harry’s pink ears. A hot flush of embarrassment had overcome him. “A year and a half of my salary?”
“Yes.” The man leaned over the desk. “Eighteen months of pay to help you find a new job. It’s a generous package.” Leaning over the desk, the deliberately bland man held out a hand for Harry to shake. “Good luck Harry.”
“Thank you.” Harry looked at the floor. He wanted to stand, but his legs were led weights. “Are there many people being made redundant?”
“There are others moving on from the company,” said the man with a voice that was soft as wilting daisies on a hot day.
“You mean fired,” Harry said.
“No. Someone who is fired does not receive redundancy.” There was a warning note in the man’s voice. Harry knew it was time to go.
Weight lifted from Harry’s stomach. Light poured in through the shades of the fifth-floor window. Possibilities whispered to him. Hope returned.
Adrenaline lifted Harry to his feet. He held out his hand. “Thank you.”
“Huh?” The administrator’s face was a question mark.
“I’ve been dreaming of quitting this job for three years. Now I don’t have to. Thank you very much,” Harry said with the same enthusiasm he’d given the boss ten years before when he’d been hired.
“You’re welcome,” said the bland man, brow furrowing. “I don’t get a lot of people saying thank you in my line of work. Have a good day, Harry.”
“I will,” said the unemployed cubicle drone.
As his foot stepped across the threshold of the door, Harry entered a world of new possibilities. Tension in his shoulders relaxed. Lower back pain was forgotten. A new ache in his cheeks told him he was smiling from ear to ear.
“They’re keeping you?” Asked Gregg, who Harry had always wanted to throw down an elevator shaft.
“No, I’m redundant.”
“Then what do you look so happy about?” Gregg stood in his own sweaty suit, sharper cut that Harry’s, dark grey with a silky blue shirt and a maroon tie.
A burly man stood over him at the desk. The badge on the man’s barrelled chest said SECURITY.
Harry looked at the ‘Hang in There’ motivational poster of a rock climber suspended from a cliff. It summed up how he’d felt for years except the man in the photo was smiling. He peeled it off, rolled it up and handed it to Gregg. “You need this more than me now.”
“I don’t want that.” The sneer worthy of Draco Malfoy brought back the impulse to punch the man’s teeth out, but Harry was too happy.
“If you say so.” Dropping the poster in a bucket with scrap paper, he retrieved a photograph of his wife smiling and left.
“You don’t want anything else?” Asked the security guard.
“No. Here’s the key card, you’re walking me out right?” He handed it to the man.
“Yes.” The guard looked at him in confusion.
The sky was brighter. Air hit his tongue sweeter than it had forever. He walked across the road to the convenience store and used the printer app on his phone. With ten copies of his CV, he tipped the cashier ten dollars and bought himself a family sized bar of chocolate.
Chomping on the blueberry filled confectionary, Harry rubbed his aching cheeks.
A woman with blue eyes and dazzling teeth smiled at him as he passed, both turning as they walked by. His heartbeat quickened. No. He touched the pocket of his shirt, feeling the photo of Pamela.
Seeing a sign in a restaurant for STAFF WANTED, he walked on by. He’d worked as a waiter during university. He wasn’t going through that abuse again.
A sign in a toy store caught his eye. DELIVERY STAFF WANTED, must have own car. He didn’t have a car. He did have a licence and could rent or buy one. He pushed through the door, a bell ringing above him.
A grey-haired woman in a red and pink shirt smiled as he approached. Her teeth were white and grey, she looked like everyone’s grandmother. A photo of her and a man of similar age hung on the wall behind her.
“I’d like to apply for the job. I don’t have a car, but I can rent one immediately.”
“You don’t have a car, but you can rent one?” She smiled and turned her head to look at someone who wasn’t there. A smile was born and died on her lips in a moment.
“Can I see your licence?” She reached out a hand covered in liver spots.
He handed it over and stood, blissfully happy, watching her inspection.
“No points?” She asked.
“One, for a parking violation a few years ago.”
“Uh huh. What’s in your pocket?” A veiny finger with a varnished nail pointed to his pocket.
“My wife, a photo of her I mean.” He handed her the picture.
“Cute, you’re a lucky man.” She handed it back.
“I am. Thank you.”
“There’s a rental place down the road. Rent something with a big boot, bring me the receipt to show you’ve got it for the week, and I’ll give you the job.”
“Really?” He grinned; this was his day.
“I need someone immediately. You’re well dressed, you’ve got the smile and you’re the first person to apply who doesn’t have teenage acne.”
“Thank you very much. I’ll be right back with the rental receipt.”
That was it, he hired the car. He signed a contract and was given a uniform. He spent the next six hours delivering doll houses, action figures and bicycles around the city.
He parked the car in the empty driveway in front of his house. He’d not called Pamela, but the lights were on.
“Hey, I’m back.”
“Yeah, sorry I’m late. I was all over the city today.” He hung up the now unnecessary suit jacket on a hook and removed the shoes he wanted to swap for sneakers.
Pamela was sitting at the table in the kitchen. Makeup smeared down her face. His pills lay in their bottles across the table.
“When were you going to tell me about this?” She looked down at enough painkillers to put down an elephant.
“You know I use the computer as well Harry? You didn’t think I would see what you were searching on the internet?” She ran a hand through her straw-coloured hair.
“You know about that?” The joy that had filled him like helium in a balloon since he’d left the offices left him in a rush.
“What’s the least painful way to commit suicide?” She stared at him. Rage spelled itself out in the red veins of her crying eyes. “Yes, I read it, Harry. Two weeks ago.”
“Two weeks?” He sat down at the table opposite her. “You didn’t tell me.”
“How was I supposed to tell you?” She sobbed. Snot dribbled from her button nose. She grabbed handfuls of tissues to wipe it away. “How do you ask your husband if he’s going to kill himself? You never told me you were thinking about things like that. I found these pills in the garage when I searched the house. You were going to leave me? To kill yourself?”
“No. Well-” Harry ran scratched the grey hair in his black mane. Shame settled down on his shoulders, taking the place of the depression that had been there for years.
“I thought you loved me. How could you do this?” She stood up, throwing a bottle of pills at him. “What are you wearing?”
“That’s what I wanted to tell you,” he said. He tugged at the polo shirt he wore. “I have a new job.”
“New job?” The shock had snapped her out of sobbing.
“I was made redundant today.”
“The company is in administration. It was making huge losses for the last five years. My sales weren’t high enough, so they’ve given me a year and a half of my salary. I applied for a delivery job at a toy store, and they gave me it. I worked my first shift.”
Pamela’s jaw hung open. Her eyes blinked with a blank look of incomprehension.
“I’m sorry about this,” he picked up one of the pill bottles. “I’ve been hiding how I felt from you. That wasn’t right.”
“You weren’t hiding it, Harry. I could see how you were. We sleep in the same bed every night. I knew something was wrong. I haven’t seen you smile in God knows how long.”
“I was smiling today. As soon as I realised I wouldn’t have to go back to the office. I’ve hated it for so long. I wanted to quit but we needed the money for the mortgage.”
“And now,” Pamela frowned, “you work in a toy store?”
“Not exactly. I took a job doing deliveries. I rented a car. I’m going to buy something cheap when I get the first pay check. It was nice, just driving, having the radio on. I feel free.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” Pamela nodded to a pharmacy’s worth of pills.
“I was… Lost I guess is the word. I felt stuck. I didn’t want to tell you how I felt. I was ashamed that I couldn’t do well at work. I felt trapped and I didn’t know how to get out. This seemed like the easy option.”
“Killing yourself? Harry. For God’s sake.” Tears dripped down her ruddy cheeks.
“I know.” He stood and kneeled by her side, wrapping his arms around her. “I’m sorry. Let’s flush them all. I don’t want them anymore. I was desperate. I know I should have talked to you.” His blue eyes twitched as he began crying as well.
Her arm pulled his head to her chest. They sobbed together.
“You’re not going to do it are you? Kill yourself?” She asked.
“No. I promise. I feel happy now. I’ll find another job while I’m working the delivery thing. We can do things at the weekends like we used to. I’m so sorry for not telling you about everything,” he said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you as well. I was scared that you might be pushed to do it if I mentioned it. I was worried you’d jump off the building at work.”
“I know. I know.” He felt the fabric on her chest soaked with their tears.
He kissed her, lips pressed to hers. Her arms pulled him up towards her. They locked together, still sobbing.
“I love you, Pam,” he said as he pulled away.
“I love you, Harry.” She kissed his hands. “I want to flush these things right now.”
“OK. Let’s do it. Then I can show you the car.”
“I can’t believe we have a car,” she laughed. The humour was dampened by her pain, but it sweetened as she looked at his shirt. “Pink?” She asked with a hint of mockery.
“I know, it’s cheesy but I really liked working today. Travelling. Talking to people who I’m not ripping off.” He grabbed handfuls of pill bottles. “Let’s get rid of these.”
Bottle after bottle rattled as pills spilled into the toilet bowl. They spun as the water swirled, down and away.
“Let’s go for a drive,” Harry said. “I want to buy you dinner.”
“Like this?” Pamela asked. “I look like a clown in the rain.”
“Then let’s have a shower together. Remember we used to do that?”
“I remember.” She took his hand and led him up the stairs.
Throwing off their clothes, they squeezed into the shower and kissed beneath the hot flowing water. Washing each other lovingly with the soap, they forgot about going out.
Dinner was frozen pizza and ice cream. Dessert was sex on the floor of the kitchen.
“I love you, Pam.”
“I love you too.”