Author’s Note: I used to work for a company that sold accounting software. We used to interview CFO’s to talk about how good the software was for individual and team performance/morale, and one time, while packing up the microphones for one such interview, one such CFO told an off-the-record story about an account exec he knew that, one Wednesday, just totally out of nowhere, stood up and screamed, swearing, that he was going to quit. I wrote most of this story on the train home that day. I completely forgot that it existed and just randomly found it on my computer this morning, saved in an unusual folder, and the whole thing seemed so weird and coincidental that I thought I should muck up my intricately crafted posting schedule and just send it. I am extremely aware that it is Wednesday today. Go carefully.
The bus came. He let it go. Let the next one go also. Got on the one after that and got off at York Street. It was 10:45 when he stepped into the street and was blinded by heatless sun exploding off of old windows. He did not shield his eyes.
Patrick’s office was on the fifteenth floor of a building near the Quay and he didn’t see anyone he knew in the lift and it was the receptionist whose name he always forgot. He nodded a polite Good morning at her and then said passionless Hello’s and How are you’s around the office and sat at his desk and felt the chair grab hold of him, grasping his ass like a vice, and his supervisor Diane brought him a cup of tea that was mostly milk, full cream dairy milk, patted him twice on the shoulder, and explained very gently the tasks they’d assigned to him today. Patrick acknowledged each task by repeating it aloud and writing it on an A5 spiral notebook he used for his daily to-do lists, then got started—although he false started, since he entered his password wrong four times before realising he’d left caps lock on—then actually got started on his primary job, which was to contribute some figures to a big, team-wide report, which meant he had to locate and verify some numbers from last quarter’s master stat accounts and then plug them into a new model—basically, glorified busywork—almost impossible to get wrong, only time consuming to do right—and yet Patrick watched Patrick struggle, Patrick watched Patrick make clicking errors, open the wrong documents, delete things accidentally, Patrick watched Patrick start to bubble with hot liquid inside, Patrick watched Patrick begin to panic, but eventually he did it, he did the task, finally, and it was right, the work he’d done, he knew, and so he watched himself tick the appropriate box on his to-do list and also watched himself feel nothing, zero gratification, as if the tick was an arbitrary line on a bit of scrap paper that meant nothing, even though this task had taken him anywhere between an hour and one full financial year to complete—he wasn’t sure. Time was starting to feel wobbly. His sense of the passing passing hours and moons and seasons was just totally on the fritz—he checked his watch but it had no hands for some reason, and all the office clocks were frowny faces, and his computer’s time was in Wingdings, and his computer’s date said it was the ‘3rd of Forever.’ Patrick turned to the cubicle next to him to ask for help and saw that he himself was his own neighbour, and the same on the other side, and in front, the whole office was full of Patrick’s of different vintages in a vast nebula of open-plan workstations, and he tried to stand but he couldn’t, the chair refused to let go, and instead it started dragging him along, spinning Patrick through a pocket dimension outside of the usual reality, and he kaleidoscoped through his own life here, in this place, and saw the ravages of time play out on himself—all the older Patrick’s were sclerotic, arthritic, hunched with fused vertebrae—they were the same colour as their desks—they had nothing in their eyes which were coated in milky glass—Patrick was taken through them, past them, in between them, for full decades, he felt himself decaying all the while, saw that each Patrick moved to do the same tasks at the same time in a way that was hypnotic, irresistible, and he started to move with them too, reaching when they reached, typing when they typed, all of the Patricks sighed out grey particles at the exact same moment, and the one true living Patrick, or at least the Patrick that he felt like he was inside of, watched as those grey particles gravitated towards each other and began to fuse and spin and heat up in a disk and then collapse into a ball, a hot grey boulder like a small smooth moon, which a young Patrick dressed as a mailboy began to roll off into an eternal expanse that he could see exponentially inclined in the distance, and this whole process repeated, and Jesus Christ thought Patrick, and he tried to talk to the other Patricks but they couldn’t hear him of course, and he now now desperately scrambled to get out of his chair but the harder he squirmed the tighter it gripped, and it no longer just held Patrick in place but began to actually pull him downwards, into the base of the chair, sucking him out of the pocket dimension ass-first and back into the real world where he stood up, finally stood up, and began to say very loudly indeed that he wanted to resign right this fucking second.
Diane came over, but she didn’t walk all that fast.
Diane and Patrick moved slowly into Dominic’s small glass office and the three of them sat down to talk more about the Incident and its origins and its effect on his colleague’s collective productivity. Dominic was understanding but must ultimately be firm, and wanted from the very start of the dialogue to make it clear that the finance team is but one of many teams that are responsible for keeping the organisation profitable, and though Diane and her direct reports—particularly Patrick who had always been a driven and detail-oriented member of Diane’s small team of excel-savvy accountants—had of their own initiative and at very little cost automated a lot of manual reporting processes to cut cycle times and actively sought to breakdown counter-productive siloes by extending the business’ planning and analysis beyond just financial reporting, yes, though all of that had been absolutely ace for the business and really truly great for EOFY morale and for collaborative working culture and for empowering non-finance staff to interpret their own data and thereafter make strategic decisions with confidence, it doesn’t give any one individual a free pass to come in late and start screaming about resigning in the middle of the work day. Diane nodded slowly. Patrick did not feel like his brain was at what he knew intellectually to be the physical location of his brain, and instead noticed that it was floating around the room. Dominic proceeded to say that he understood, on a more personal level, that at any given time many employees in his charge were going through complex internal crises or bereavements or housing trouble, and though Patrick’s case was yes certainly, well it was certainly most definitely, it was… unique, of course, to have the whole aeroplane catastrophe followed so soon after by, well, of course Patrick knew what it was followed by, and so soon as well, basically it was, it was sad, of course, although Patrick had had a rough go of it, between the hours of 0900 and 1700 in military time, since this was a place of precision, although there was an expectation that workers would remain accountable through to 1800 hours and were actually supposed to start around 0830, but basically within the working day Patrick’s whole personal situation hadn’t so far made a noticeable impact on the productivity of the office. Diane stopped nodding and began to grimace with professional courtesy. Patrick’s brain had left the building. And that’s not to say that this was any kind of ultimatum, since there were contracts to uphold and best practises to put into practice in the best way possible, but Dominic’s overarching point was just that if there was to be more instances, for example, of becoming what witnesses referred to as ‘totally dead-eyed’ for five or so minutes and then snapping out of it with disruptive and expletive resignations, then there may need to be a second and much less friendly conversation about the future of such a person at an organisation such as this one. Somebody asked Patrick if he understood and he said that he did, and Diane and Dominic exhaled simultaneously. Phew, was the general feeling. Because Patrick was a truly valued member of the team. In fact he had not missed a day of work in the last calendar year, having very fortuitously only found himself sick on weekends, even with all that was going on with his personal life outside of the office, which was truly a remarkable feat and spoke to a kind of belief in this corporation that was very gratifying for supervisors such as Diane and CEO’s such as Dominic. It was here that a pause entered the office. It was not a pause so much as an opportunity for Patrick to offer a sort of apology of sorts, and then state a clear intention to get stuck into the remainder of his to-do list. But Patrick’s brain was in the ocean by this point so he couldn’t exactly seize the moment. Diane sensed this. Diane asked Dominic if it would be okay if maybe Patrick could take the rest of today off, to clear his head—Diane of course had no idea when she made this request with this exact phrasing that Patrick’s head was clear to the point of being totally empty and that his brain was presently sinking to the very depths of the tectonic bottoms of the heart of the Pacific Ocean. Dominic nodded and said he thought that was wise, it was the only thing to do, Patrick should go home early.
It was at the word ‘home’ that Patrick’s brain stopped plummeting. He looked around with his eyeballs, which remember aren’t connected to anything anymore, and saw without any kind of comprehension that Diane and Dominic were standing up and so was he. Strange. Scary. And now his brain came thundering back. It whistled through the sky. Over the seas, over the city, straight smack bang into the middle of his head, which hurt very very much.
‘Thank you,’ said Patrick. ‘I’m just having a bad day.’
‘Of course!’ said Diane and Dominic in cheery unison. ‘We’ll see you tomorrow!’
I think we can all relate to this one 😂