It is with heart-ache and compassionate concern I have watched close friends undergo recent troubles at work. Incessant restructuring within companies involving everyone’s re-application for their old job. Even worse, sudden and unexpected redundancies. With them in mind, in the midst of all their uncertainties, fears and confusion, I wrote the following fiction piece; trying to make sense of this unstable world around us. On the same theme my friend, Thalia Gust, has written a striking poem.
KEYS. MOBILE. LAPTOP.
‘Twenty-three pounds forty-one.’
Emma scours the coins in her purse, their muffled jangling amplified across the empty aisles. Finally she locates the coin and as if disembodied, hands over the money. Now Emma holds out her hand expectantly, waiting for the nine pence change.
The sales assistant stares at her hand condescendingly. What is her problem? Emma wonders. She has no idea of problems.
‘I’m just waiting for the three pounds.’
Emma looks at the twenty pound note and fifty pence. I feel like a moron, she thinks. I feel old. Deflated, the spirit and hope went out of her in a puff just three days ago.
One accident whilst cooking dinner surely is enough. A pan of water, luckily not boiling, tipping across the whole hob, knocking out the gas burners. Puddles form around them, gleaming under the fan light, little ripples. Emma just stands and stares at them, heart heavy with the thought of effort. To move everything. Just everything. Once sorted she continues to cook; every action a reflex. Robotic. An automaton who fails to lift a glass of soda water. Look! There it goes, flying across the counter, onto the cook books, under the toaster, over the napkins. Just great. Emma believed she was all out of sighs. She is wrong. The tears ceased but the sighs, they persevere.
Emma looks left. Then right. She turns onto the road. Remembering at the last minute, she glances left down the road again, straight into the front fender of a lorry. A lorry not slowing down. He is so angry. Vicious. Emma puts her foot down on the accelerator, speeds to thirty and levels off. Level? When will life ever be like that again? The lorry bears down on her, only a couple of feet from her bumper. Just try it, she mutters. I don’t care. I really couldn’t care less.
Three days. Three events.
Three days earlier she wakes after a restless night. The bed had been wrong. Not the one from her childhood room that she’d slept in for the past week whilst visiting her parents. The room was wrong. Not her cosy pink small bedroom from her youth. Here it was too warm. The cool air of the countryside had caressed her face during the quiet nights whilst at Mum and Dad’s. Here even the house was wrong. Too noisy. She feels like Goldilocks and The Three Bears – waiting for everything to be right! Still waiting.
Despite the lack of sleep, Emma smiles at the tender sunlight of the day, as the warmth of Spring, its promise, beckons her outside. She heads for the garden, checking quickly on Scott working from his office in the converted garage. She pops her head round the door. Just to say hi. Shocked, instead of seeing her husband’s habitual disarray of letters scattered across his desk and spreadsheets visible on the computer screen, she spies a tidy work surface and a movie playing before guiltily he clicks off. Why?
‘I’ll come out and join you for a drink.’ Why? He never usually has time for a break whilst working from home.
‘No, it’s okay,’ she replies, anything to keep him in the office. He picks up a letter and comes out. The air seems to darken, she shivers. Just being foolish, tired.
Drinks in hand, they settle on the bench. Emma jabbers on about her parents, their news. So unlike her. This yakking. Scott holds the letter in his hand, wafting it up and down as he taps the edge of the bench. Blinding sunlight reflects from the reverse side of the pure white sheet. Whatever it is, don’t let go of that hand grenade, Emma thinks, almost hypnotised by its presence. She wants to sit in the sun and talk. Normal things. She points at the birds and flowers. Half-heartedly he joins her at mentioning the ladybirds. Skittishly she jumps up to inspect them closer. Scott calls her back to the bench and reluctantly she joins him there.
‘I had a meeting last Tuesday’ he starts and stops. ’There is no easy way of saying this.’
Then don’t. She mustn’t have said it aloud. Alas.
‘When I went to sign in, I saw the director was there. This isn’t good, I thought.’
It isn’t, not good at all, Emma fears and the inner shaking that still consumes her three days later begins.
‘Well…they made me redundant.’
No! You went ahead and said it. Nothing will be the same again.
‘But we have a good package. It will tie us over. It will be okay.’
Not a word. Not even a sigh. For a second or two complete stillness as shock and terror sweeps over her whilst guilt and shame hound Scott.
‘When do you stop working?’
‘Then. I went straight back, told the people in the office and left. It was like a weight had been lifted off me.’
And onto her.
They talk there, in the warm sunlight, a bee buzzing hello, the blue tits incessantly nibbling peanuts. She cries a bit – tears that were held at bay for years, during deaths, funerals. For this she cries. Now. Scott is between euphoria and shock. Emma is between desperate and drowning. For once he sees hope and light. For Emma…gloomy darkness shrouds the bright sunlight.
Three days ago they were given the end and the beginning. As the days go on Emma sees the beginning. A change. As the man she married is returned to her; as the stress of work ebbs away, the lines on his face flatten and dissipate. A bounce, yes, there is even a run in his step. For Emma, she walks as if removed from herself. Endlessly she visualises herself, as if watching from a remote camera. Separated from herself and the world.
One day – a week day – they walk hand and hand in the park. Emma’s days becomes his; well, apart from the hours he spends in the office as the job hunting starts. Lunches together. Visit to the shops. Normal life and it feels good. But it is temporary. God, she hopes it is because she doesn’t know how they will manage otherwise. God, she will miss it when the old normal returns. But it will be different this time.
Over the next few days facts from the fateful day drizzle out, scorching her heart like hot lava on ice with each statement.
‘You know how hard it is to get a key off a key-ring. Even when things are normal.’
Emma knows exactly what he means. The fingertips skin ripped, nails split, the air around sprinkled with soft annoyed curses – usually before giving up in a huff. Looking at her husband’s hands, she wonders how did he manage to undo those keys at all? Nails bitten down to the quick. Undoing the key that Tuesday morning was no normal event. Under duress, under demand. Like those scenes in the cop movies. Hand over the gun and badge. An unexpected and sudden reversal of life. She imagines his shaking hands as he tries to keep himself together. We all have pride and self-respect. Quietly stoic; biting back his hurt, shock and anger. Finally the key is passed over. Then time for the company phone.
He sees the chance to escape this madness for a few minutes, an opportunity to be alone, to strengthen.
‘It’s in my car. I’ll get it.’ Emma imagines him walking downstairs – it just has to be down a flight of dull grey painted stairs. She see him wanting to flee, to scream, to swear (even if he is not that way inclined). Instead, ever the professional he takes the steps back, laptop case knocking against his legs.
So that was that.
He returned to the office that fateful morning. Unaware of events his colleagues uttered a casual greeting before their eyes returned to the screens. Hadn’t they noticed his ashen mien, she wondered. His shrunken demeanour? His shock?
‘Well, I’m off,’ he says to them all.
‘You’re not well, then? Going home for the day to rest?’ one voice pipes up. Intuitive to his change of tone.
‘No. Gone for good. I’ve just been made redundant’
Emma imagines the silence, the non-verbal ‘thank god, it wasn’t me’, the uttered, ‘what? how could they?’ Things like this happened in other offices around the country, to other distant employees. But never to one of their own. The purge is coming closer.
At the meeting, Scott picks up his now empty briefcase then turns back once more to the director.
‘I can stay until the end of the week – there are a few important meetings to attend.’ Ever the gentleman Scott magnanimously makes the offer.
Such a gesture in the face of unfairness and cruelty. No discussion. No warning. They fight dirty. They sit still, bowed by guilt, surrounded by the darkness of the deed. Or so Emma pictures the scene.
‘Thank you but no, that is not necessary.’
So that was it, she realises. Redundant. The very word resonating with negative connotations, not needed, expendable. Conjuring up images of the dungheap. Too troublesome, too ethical, too moral. Not toeing the company line. So, out comes the broom. Quick sweep. Then redundant.
For Emma, television in the evenings becomes a life-saver. For an hour or two she loses herself in the fantasy world of others. Emotionally the rollercoaster continues – she fears for the future, but battles to see the positive, the light. She is hopeful. Still, the world shifted, slid, shunted. Her initial desperation and anger dissipates like a wisp of wind in the vacuum. From the darkness of the void comes emotions of hope and opportunity.
Keep your keys, mobile and laptop, declares Emma to herself a few days later. You gave us a chance at life. A chance at living.
© Annika Perry
‘The longest and most exciting journey is the journey inwards.’ Konstantin Stanislavsky
The new buzzword, replacing responsibility,
Bad management scurrying,
for camouflage, from blame.
Word covering new creep-hole,
to fire without care,
No law has yet found its way,
to stop this demeaning crunch.
You can re-apply,
employees are told.
With hope, worry and dread,
to tell the family and gather
They talk, fear and hope
entwined in a dance.
Will we lose our home,
can we feed our children?
Where do we go, what to do?
Inhuman burden to put,
on the trusting employee.
Some will rise from the ashes,
Courage to create.
In a society built on Corporations,
An herculean task.
© Thalia Gust
41 thoughts on “KEYS. MOBILE. LAPTOP.”
This is a very well written piece, Annika and from my own grim work related experience can say you’ve captured the mood exceptionally. Top effort. 🙂
Thank you so much, Phil – sadly this is too much of a reality for many. Hope your latest work situation is much more positive! 😀
Yes, things are much better now, thanks Annika and with time to read. This and ‘Sofia’ (which I read a few days ago and tried to comment but my device crashed and burnt) have both been excellent. The humour flowing through Sofia offered hope all would be well but…. Better not go spoiling the end. Happen it were great 🙂
Hi Annika, at last getting over here as promised! I found your story so moving and I just want to send you more hugs. After I was made redundant for the second time in 2011 I felt exactly like Emma.
‘Her initial desperation and anger dissipates like a wisp of wind in the vacuum. From the darkness of the void comes emotions of hope and opportunity.
Keep your keys, mobile and laptop, declares Emma to herself a few days later. You gave us a chance at life. A chance at living.’
Is exactly how I felt, and it was because of that last redundancy that I made the decision to pursue my life long ambition of writing. And you know the rest.
Beautiful writing, powerful poem. Thank you my friend for sharing this with us ❤ xxxx
Thank you so much for this fantastic comment, Sherri – both about my writing and the powerful (great word here) poem. I am so sorry that you had to go through such an event yourself – alas too common these days and the heartache spreads across family and friends. Often such traumas are blessings in disguise which is only realised much later.
Warmest wishes to you and glad you found that chance to live again!
I love your writing Annika…thinking of you and sending more hugs…will be in touch very soon ❤ xxx
What a lovely story, Annika – so well written.
Thank you very much for your lovely comment – this has me smiling!😀
Wow, i was reading this from the start and i loved how the scenario began to fit one after the other as i continued reading. Captured my read attention from first to last line. The last few lines Nailed it! Brilliant.- Cezane
Cezane, thank you for your lovely comment. 😀 I wanted to bring the story to a positive uplifting end as so often when times are darkest, this is only the beginning of the path to happiness. Your kind words are a real boost and I’m so glad that these two pieces grabbed your attention.
Well written! I enjoyed reading.
Thank you, Maja – so glad you enjoyed it.
Wonderful short, Annika. It’s so hard to hear this sort of thing, when people are squeezed out of a job because the people higher on the ladder are so often looking at their own bottom line instead of working with the troops to figure out a better way to handle “extra” bodies, like retraining them for a different task/department. Thalia also has captured essence of that emotional hit when “downsizing” occurs. Thank you both for sharing!
Julie, thank you so much for your lovely comment about both my piece and Thalia’s poem. The world itself seems to have shifted on so many levels and here particularly in the UK in the work place. So many of my friends have gone through re-structures it’s become a standing joke, some suffering redundancies or under the threat of them. Difficult times all round. Wishing you a lovely sunny weekend!
A real topic that is not brought up enough…the sudden coldness of this type of process can be so shaming….on top of income loss. Your story felt intense and real and the poem an excellent commentary on the big picture.
Janice, I think you nailed it when you mentioned ‘shame’. Isn’t that why people don’t talk about it more openly? Not only is there the personal fear for the future, there is a deep-rooted sense of failure which rocks ones self-confidence to the core. It is so prevalent now and I have heard so many suffer the same experience that this piece just came and knocked at me until I wrote it! I thought the poem particularly might appeal to you!
Both pieces appealed to me very much. You made the emotional experience so vivid.
I couldn’t help but read the entire story, Annika, engrossed. Hoping for a happy ending. I love the term ‘redundancy’. Here, we say ‘fired’, ‘let go’, ‘laid off’, or ‘not contracted for another year’. Such judgmental terms. But truly, I remember years ago, on my honeymoon, bemoaning the control a job had over my husband and I. When he was let go (the whole scene as ugly as you described), he didn’t react well. I was afraid I’d lose him. When I followed soon after, I had to step up. Or we’d both go down. We worked our home business. We’ve grown to love the slower pace, adapted to the lesser income, and grown from the time we’ve spent together. I’m good with the ‘redundancies’.
Jacqui, my heart goes out to you. For both first your husband and then you to lose your jobs must just have been terrible, intense, worry, strain on family and income. You did well to step up. Was this recent? What is the home business you mention? As you say there are positive outcomes, often better solutions – time usually shows the way, just as Emma in the story is beginning to see. Thank you for reading it all – this was a long piece for a blog post but one of those that ‘wrote itself’ and with so many going through similar traumas, one worthwhile putting into the bloggersphere I felt! Hugs to you. 😀
Oh, I definitely didn’t mean to sound like I was whining, or bemoaning my fate. It’s a bit rocky, but everything worked out for the best. I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. Once again, God’s hand, taking me where I wouldn’t have gone without a little encouragement.
Jacqui, your comment only shows your courage and strength and hopefully will give others grounds of hope and optimism when times are difficult. I like that ‘a little encouragement’!
This is very realistic story about what is going on in our society today.
Patricia, thank you so much for your lovely comment. Unfortunately this is happening more and more in today’s uncertain world – a time of heartache, fear and soul-seeking. Warmest wishes to you.
Great writing Annika displaying the range of emotion that too many have had to go through. I love how the poem sums it up!
Thank you, JC. An emotional time for everyone involved directly or indirectly. Oddly enough the poem was written by my friend nearly a year ago but whilst writing this piece I remembered her poem and said I would be honoured if I could feature it. Describing similar events but in different written formats.
Fantastic! Haunting echoes to my own life sadly….x
Sarah, so sorry to hear that but hopefully your work situation is more stable now. From the stories I hear, the workplace is changing and security as was known before just doesn’t exist.
The heartrending story and poem reaches across the globe, consoling and offering hope, Annika. Thanks for sharing; I’ll share too… Blessings to you and yours, my dear friend. 🙂
Bette, thank you so much for your lovely warm comment; it touches my soul and means so much to me. If my story can offer hope to even one unfortunate person in this situation than my heart is happier. Thank you also for sharing. Warmest wishes to you, dear friend. 😀
Great blog Annika. I think this describes very well the range of emotions experienced in the aftermath of being made redundant.
This is also very accurately reinforced by the poem
Thank you, Mike. This is a sensitive topic to write about and I wanted to do it justice without becoming ‘mushy’. The poem happened to have been written nearly a year ago but on the same theme so fitted perfectly with the post (albeit making one long post!).
Wonderful, emotionally rich writing, Annika. That was mesmerizing. I love how you went so deep into Emma’s pov. You took me straight into that dreamlike, disconnected, floating feeling of the character. You captured the pain and uncertainty with great poignancy. Thalia’s poem was the perfect complement. I hope someday the political and corporate will shifts and people will be valued over money. I fear things have to get worse before they’ll get better. 😦
Diana, your wonderful comment has me nearly in tears – I was trying hard to show Emma’s sense of dislocation from the normal life and I am so glad you felt this in the writing. As I wanted it to be immediate I tried to use the present tense throughout even if this is maybe not ‘grammatically’ correct. You have given me a real boost with this comment. The poem was perfect I felt and yes, a complement to this. Strangely enough written a year earlier but I asked my friend if she would be kind enough to let me use it. She was only too happy to oblige! Yes, I do hope the corporate world will learn that kindness and understanding is not a form of weakness but will only straighten their companies and trust, loyalty and ability of their employees. This culture of fear wrecks lives and working culture. Warmest wishes to you, Diana. 😀
Best to you, too. Wonderful work. Keep writing!
Such a strong and heart wrenching tale. Fear, confusion, disbelief, hope,
all in a constant whirl. The effect on Emma and Scott are painted with such
strong and sensitive strokes. Masterful I would say.
“From darkness to hope and opportunity” you say and this leaves us with some light.
How amazingly perfect the Poem fits with your story, With its strength and surety it
also finds “fear and hope entwined in a dance”.
Mirja, thank you so much for your lovely and considered comment. The line you pick out from the poem fits perfectly what I feel Emma is going through – such a turmoil of emotions – dancing in insecurity. Although I tried to keep this short, there was so much I wanted to say so I did feel I was having to do ‘brushstrokes’ with the writing to try and convey the various emotions, events. May all undergo this kind of event find ‘hope and opportunity’.
Well done, Annika. This brought back memories when I lost my job around six years ago.
Jill, I am so sorry to hear that – an incredibly stressful and worrying time. I hope things worked out quickly for you, my friend. As always lovely to read your comment.
Thank you, Annika. It wasn’t quick, but I ended up in a better place. 🙂
Absolutely brilliant piece, Annika. You capture so well the despairing hole of losing one’s job, and possibly home. But you resurface at the end with such a strong statement of hope. I sometimes wonder how “the management” live with their consciences, but then perhaps they are scared of the same thing happening to them. Thalia says so much in a few lines as well, leaving us with thoughts to mull over. Thank you.
Thank you, Peter for your thought-provoking comment. I too have wondered how the ‘management’ feel in these situations and you might well be right – living fear of the same happening to them! A tragedy all round. Thalia Gust says so much in far fewer words than I, capturing the sense of fear and loss of self-respect in this wonderful poem.