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