Screams carried through a hollow wooden door. From the corner of his eye Edward could see them all staring, some pretending to work when all the rest knew they weren’t. It didn’t matter, with the blinds open everyone could see the sight: a kid less than half Edward’s age, was screaming about numbers. His boss to be precise.
Numbers. Edward had been working numbers since this kid was less than a twinkle in his father’s eye. He had been the top sales rep for this company when this kid was still learning how to add. Yet here they were, his kid-boss screaming again, nearly foaming at the mouth from his number induced rage. Edward stood in front of him – vigorously attempting to maintain strict eye contact – with hands firmly planted in his pockets.
Edward had once been good, no, not good – great. Able to double the sales any other rep put up. When he was a few years into his job there was a long span where he had gotten more sales on his own than all the other sale reps combined. But in the present he was here, being chastised by a boy dressed as a business professional.
His age had slowed him. He refused to advance his techniques, refused to adopt the same practices the new up-and-comers had been taught in school. As a result he fell behind the times, unable to find new clients and barely able to hold onto his old ones. His old power clients slowly closed up shop or sold off to bigger companies. Sons took over, boys with ideas quite unlike their father’s. One by one he lost them all until only a loyal handful of his former clients remained. The new kids were able to find new clients with ease, like he had been able to do when he was young. His glory days. Now he was old, slow and barely made any commission off the clients he had left. But his salary was good – as it should be for how long he had put in with the company.
He was being screamed at by a kid less than half his age, after the amount of time he spent with this company. This wasn’t how you treated a person after they spent the better part of fifty years with the same company. Same place since he graduated college. It was a betrayal, a betrayal to his loyalty, a betrayal to what he had given up for the company. This kid-boss of his would leave the company soon as he found better pay. Loyalty was gone.
Edward stood with eyes locked, hands in pockets, screams flowing from the kid-boss’s mouth. Edward attempted to make as though he was listening while his thoughts wondered elsewhere. In his mind he was thinking of writing his two-week notice, or if he should even bother. He could wake up tomorrow and not show up, not even a phone call. There was enough in his savings and stocks to retire with. So why bother giving this place any notice? A place with a supervisor who spent the better part of five minutes screaming at an employee who worked for them for the better part of fifty years.
Numbers. Numbers. Numbers. It was all his time at the company amounted to. Numbers.
Betty criticized and lectured him years ago. Told him his job would kill him. She saw it in him everyday, the toll working there put on him. He stood firm, told her he could not and most certainly would not leave his job. The company treated him well enough over the years – or what he considered well enough to be. His friends, as he had called them, had once worked there and they – just like he thought of the company – treated him well enough. But more pressing than any of the other things keeping him there was that he didn’t have any other place to go.
Edward picked up a sneaking suspicion that his kid-boss wanted to get rid of him, clear out the old man. Edward was old baggage, useless even when hidden in a out-of-the-way corner. (Incidentally Edward worked in a cubicle in the corner of the office furthest away from his kid-boss’s office). A slight smile crept across Edward’s face at the thought. It was an error in judgement, as the kid-boss flew into another tirade, now focusing on respect, leaving those poor numbers behind.
All the people he once knew, all those he once called friends had left the company. He called them friends in the loosest of terms. They were always friendly to one another’s faces; but past the facade of pleasantry there was nothing. Behind one another’s backs they talked only of the flaws the other’s exhibited. They attempted to steal one another’s clients, attempted to get one another fired. In a job where competition was king there was no chance for any of them to be real, true life-long friends. A thought traveled around his head – the way the kid-boss was treating him now, this was how they all should have been to each other. He had received so much worse behind his back; receiving it to his face was a nice change of pace. Edward continued to take the barrage his kid-boss inflicted on him, reminiscing on the way they all once treated each other; glad someone in this company was finally showing him how they really felt about his existence.
The people he called friends at one time or another were all gone, his kid-boss screamed about numbers and Edward’s lack of respect. In the search of his hastily compiled internal lists he found many more con’s than pro’s for his staying. Betty was right when she told him he would regret his choices. Who forces a man to make that kind of choice, your job – a job which has paid for the house, the cars, all the nice, above-necessity things – or your wife. So he gave her his decision. Told her he could not quit his job; she told him to call when he discovered how much he regretted his choice. The door slammed as she stormed out, leaving him alone except for the sound of picture frames as they rattled against the wall.
He never made that called. Now, years later standing in this office, still being screamed at, he wished he had. If only he listened to his Betty he would not be here. He would not be so miserable. If he made those choices when he had the chance, he would not be in this office getting screamed at. Maybe he would go ahead and put in his two week notice, let them know he was leaving. Let them know he was no longer going to be marginalized. Let them know that after fifty plus years he should be treated better than a piece of luggage.
After the screams subsided he would go home, write out his two week notice and make this kid happy. Maybe he would go ahead and give Betty that call, make himself happy for a change. More than a few years had passed but they loved each other once, enough so that maybe she would come back. He would go out on the golf course, meet some real friends. Maybe those guys he used to call friends would meet him for drinks, then he would truly live. The new kids may even call him – he could give them his number on his way out – for hints on how you really get sales. Edward could pass on his knowledge, like every old man should.
To live life all he needed to do was go home and write his notice. Better yet he would just tell this pompous brat that he was out of here. I quit, he would say, then he would walk out of the kid-boss’s office and slam the door. The other employees would cheer, just like in the movies. It was all so simple, laid out in front of him, there for the taking. All it needed – for him to finally live a good life – was his action.
The screaming stopped, kid-boss was leaning back in his chair. You got that old man, Edward faintly heard him say. Edward apologized, said he would get his numbers up, show the kid some respect. He walked out of the kid-boss’s office and went back to his barren corner cubicle – no pictures, no calendar, no posters. The place echoed the rest of his life. All the cubicle had were small certificates on one wall; some displayed the amount of sales Edward had done in his early years others showed the years he had spent there.
Edward grabbed a pen and sheet of paper preparing to create his final memo. He touched the pen to the paper and looked back up to his cubicle walls. The company did echo the rest of his life, but at least here he had something. No matter how small and inconsequential he was treated, no matter how much this place seemed like a waste to him, it the only thing he had in this world that mattered.
He set down the pen, crumpled the paper and let out a long low sigh. His dreams were nice, vindictive and pleasant – but they would never happen. Betty would never come back, he would never go out and meet new friends on the links. His fantasy life was exactly that, a fantasy. He was an old man, and this was the only place he knew.