The Leaving Party
Brian Thompson had been looking at the clock on the wall of the staff canteen for the last three minutes. He had done nothing else but look. It was one of those fancy modern designs; the type that displays the time in digital figures above the day and date and hasn’t the decency to be slow or fast now and then. It even had a blinking colon between the hours and the minutes. Counting down the seconds. He’d hated the clock ever since it was installed and secretly, when he knew for sure nobody was about, he’d fire mashed potato or mushy peas or tasteless custard at it. His lasting regret was that he had never hit the target. A fitting epitaph if ever there was one, he thought. And, worse still, his ammunition quite often had never even hit the wall. The thought of being presented with the wall clock for his retirement sent a shiver down his spine.
His retirement party, in the canteen of all places, was supposed to start at half past four but a couple of junior managers and other office staff from different branches of the building had decided to begin early without the guest of honour. ‘Probably standard protocol nowadays,’ he thought to himself. When Brian entered alone only one girl had looked his way then ignored him. She obviously didn’t know who he was; maybe none of them knew. When he looked around he recognised some of the faces but didn’t know their names either.
Shortly after, more people entered and it became clear that the main attraction was the free alcohol and various bites to eat. For some of the younger ones the appeal was as much each other as the drink. Two juniors, wearing similar cut-price shirts and reeking of cheap antiperspirant, were vying for the attention of a pretty, giggling blonde girl. Swain and Pollock from Logistics drifted in in the middle of some quiet discussion and nodded knowingly to him. Swain seemed to be about to say something, perhaps goodbye, but hesitated and continued on his way. Jennings from Human Resources couldn’t even recall his name: “Ah, so you’re leaving us, um, ah, well, just come to say fare-thee-well and all that.”
God Almighty, he detested these people. Especially the bright, young managers, by some quirk of fate all senior to him; straight out of university and full of money-saving ideas and impromptu conference meetings to which he was never invited and hand-held computers and constantly-in-use mobile phones. The bright, young brigade. Hell, no wonder the country was in the state it’s in, he thought.
Friday, October 30, at two minutes to five. In total, two minutes short of 43 years at The Department. A long time in anyone’s book. On Sunday he would be sixty-five and, well, that would be it. A theoretically useful life come to nothing. His mother, God rest her soul, used to say: “Your life is like a blank page for colouring in. Make sure you don’t use white chalk!” But hadn’t he done just that?
When Morrison, his boss and junior by twenty years, stood up to make a speech at exactly five o’clock, Thompson had had enough. He left the canteen, unnoticed by everyone, and headed towards his small office at the end of the corridor on the top floor. When he stepped inside he locked the door with a key nobody knew he possessed.
The office was sparse. There were no plants or posters or framed family snapshot. No computer or photocopier or filing cabinet either. All it contained in fact was a chair, a metal wastepaper bin and a brown wooden desk. He always thought that the contents of this desk defined him: a grey telephone that never rang; an in-tray and out-tray which had been bare for the last number of years; an abandoned Sheaffer ballpoint which used to leak black ink; and three awkward drawers, two of which contained nothing.
He sat in his chair, behind his desk, and felt the familiar comfort of his imitation-leather seat. From the top drawer he removed a brown glass bottle. It had been sitting atop a neat pile of eight envelopes which contained official letters requesting him to consider ‘the reworked redundancy package as specified below’. He ignored the letters yet again and studied the label on the bottle, adjusting the angle to read the print at the bottom. The irony didn’t escape him as he pondered the words ‘sell-by date’.
He unscrewed the lid with a sigh and emptied the contents into his palm. There were forty three pills; one for each year. For him the party was over. It had been over for many years.
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Mark Tuohy.
Published on e-Stories.org on 08/08/2010.