Slumped in his chair, he places his elbows on his desk, interlocking his fingers tightly together as if in prayer. He slowly pitches forward, leaning his forehead against his fists for support. Although the outside frost is slowly inching its way up the large French windows, droplets of sweat dot his forehead. He raises his head back up and stares unseeingly into the distance, the breathtaking view of the city below bathed in glistering lights completely lost on him. His gaze turns to the page lying in front of him. He reaches for it with a trembling hand, unable to stop himself from picking it up. He knows full well what it says, he just wrote it a few seconds ago, and still he reads and rereads it again and again until all the letters bleed together. The icy chill of the words seeps from the page into his fingers, up his arms, spreading slowly throughout his body like a cancer on an all-consuming destructive path. He finally tears his eyes away from the loathsome words, his gaze landing on his computer’s screen saver.
Two identical young boys stare back at him with carefree smiles on their faces as they embrace in a playful bearhug on the beach, the soft rolling waves of the ocean behind them, tickling their toes in the sand. The purity of their joy pulls him out of the dark place threatening to engulf him. He resolutely crushes the note into a tight ball and with the crumpled piece of paper still lodged firmly in his palm, he brusquely shakes the mouse to bring his computer back to life. The warm colors of the smiling boys disappear and are replaced by the blinding white background containing the same lines as the printed version propped in his hand. He moves the cursor to the far-right corner of the blue bar and clicks on the X. ‘Want to save your changes to document1?’ His mouse hovers on ‘save’, then it slowly inches towards ‘don’t save’…click. He quickly shuts off his computer, locks up the office and heads towards the elevators, straightening his back and increasing his stride with each step.
Exiting the elevator at the lobby, he looks down as he crosses the threshold and notices that he is still clutching the balled-up note. Without missing a step, he tosses it forcefully into the trashcan next to the receptionist’s counter. He smiles amicably at the night janitor sweeping the floor and makes his way through the revolving doors. If he hurries, he might be able to make it back home just in time to read the boys a bed-time story.
The night janitor absentmindedly waves back as he finishes his final sweep of the marble floors and moves on to his last task of the evening; collecting the trash. Moving from one trashcan to the next, he lifts the bags, ties them in a knot, tosses them into the big trash bag lining his cart and places a fresh bag in the trashcan. He whistles a happy tune while he works and daydreams about the glorious meat stew waiting for him at home. Just the thought of his knife slicing through the tender meat makes him salivate. He picks up the pace, no longer bothering with replacing the bags with fresh ones but simply emptying their contents directly into his cart. As he shakes the last trashcan next to the receptionist’s desk into his cart, a crumpled piece of paper misses it and rolls unnoticed underneath the counter.
“Come on Charlie, hurry up!” Tina says while blowing warm air into her palms and hopping from one foot to the other. “You are going to make me late for my first day at work. Just pee already!” Charlie happily zigzags from one lamppost to the next, sniffing each one thoroughly as if in search of enlightenment itself. “Ok, Charlie that’s it, last chance, if you don’t pee right now you will have to hold it in until after I come back from work. You don’t want me to have to face Mr. Jones and explain to him that after sticking his neck out to get me hired, I’m late on my very first day because my dog couldn’t choose a lamppost, do you?!”
Just as Tina is about to pull on the leash, the brown Labrador zooms in on three green trashcans lining the side of the brownstone apartment complex. He trots over to them, takes a few tentative sniffs, lifts his hind leg and aims a steaming stream at one of the trashcans. Tina hurries back to her apartment with Charlie leading the way. She makes sure he has plenty of water in his bowl and gives him a quick hug. “I’ll be back before you know it, I promise!” At the front door she turns around one last time to give the dog the sternest look she can muster, “Charlie, behave!”
She half walks, half runs to the Metro Station, taking the stairs as fast as her stilettos will allow, holding her purse closely tucked to her body with one arm while brushing brown fur from her black slacks with the other. There are still a few empty seats in the train, but she bypasses them all, hurrying to the gliding doors at the back of the compartment. Hooking her hand through the loop of an overhead strap, she turns her back to the rest of the commuters and their idle chitchat. She focuses at her reflection on the glass, smiles warmly and repeats in a low voice, “Frasier Bank of New York, good morning, how may I help you”.
As soon as Tina exits the metro station, she catches a glimpse of the majestic skyscraper at the end of the street. She pauses for a second, takes a deep breath, straightens her shoulders and heads purposefully towards the imposing building. Walking past an Indian restaurant, the pungent curry spices combined with the fumes of car exhaust invade her nostrils. Finally, she reaches the office building and darts through the revolving doors. She straightens invisible stray hairs from her perfectly coiffed bun as she walks up to the empty reception counter, her heels clicking a rhythmic beat on the shiny marble floors. A mischievous smile touches her lips as she slowly lowers herself into the seat behind the huge desk. She runs her fingers lovingly over the cold gleaming countertop and whispers, “My reception desk”, still in awe and disbelief. As Tina leans over to set her purse on the floor, she sees a balled-up piece of paper at the far inside corner of her desk.
Picking it up, she is about to toss it in the trashcan when curiosity takes over. She unfolds it and quickly glances over her shoulder before reading. ‘Please forgive me. I tried to fix it but, everything just spiraled out of control. I shouldn’t have done it. I realize that now. I wish I could turn back the clock, but I can’t. I messed up and now my sweet boys will pay the prize, growing up without a father. I know this is the coward’s way out, but I’d rather have my kids bury me and go on with their lives than have to face them through bars for the rest of my life. I’m sorry.’
“Are you going to answer that?” Tina jumps up nervously and finds herself staring into the soft brown eyes of Mr. Jones who is smiling at her. “I, uhm, yes, uhm no, I mean, of course Mr. Jones!” She stammers and quickly sits back down while snatching the note. She balls it back in her fist in a casual motion and picks up the ringing phone while pushing buttons at random, willing the blinking light to stop its mad dance. “Frasier Bank of New York, good morning, how may I help you?”, she singsongs in what she hopes comes off as a clear and confident voice while she looks back up at Mr. Jones, a smile plastered on her face. “One moment please and I’ll connect you.” Patching the caller through, she turns her attention back to Mr. Jones, weighing whether or not to tell him about the note clamped in her fist. Before she can make up her mind, his cell phone rings. He looks at the caller ID and backs up a few steps from the counter as he takes the call. Without meaning to eavesdrop she still catches some of the conversation. “Good morning Mr. Wellington…Yes sir…of course sir…no problem sir. I’ll be right up sir.” Lowering the phone, he slowly presses the disconnect button. He looks back up and stares at her for a few seconds then gives her a quick nod and heads towards the elevators in the back, picking up his pace as he goes.
As she watches him walk away, she has a strong urge to call out to him but he’s already out of earshot. She looks down at the crumpled paper in her hand and then at Mr. Jones’s retreating back. She doesn’t know what to do. This was not at all how she had imagined her first day at work would be like. It had taken her months of countless interviews followed by just as many disappointments, before finally landing this job. She had naively thought that her proudly earned Bachelor’s of Art degree would automatically open doors to a brilliant new career but all it got her was one rejection after the other. If it weren’t for Mr. Jones, she probably wouldn’t be sitting behind this desk right now. She recalls last week’s interview. It started horribly. She walked into the office and just as she was about to hand over her personal file to the interviewer she tripped, papers flying all over the place. She crouched down to grab them at the same time as he did and their heads collided painfully. Tears of frustration prickled behind her eyes as she realized that she had blown the interview in less than sixty seconds, a new record even for her. She apologized profusely and started backing out of the room but then he said, “Where are you going? You no longer want the job?” She gave him a thankful smile and walked over to the chair proffered by him. He introduced himself while extending his hand. “Hi, I’m Mr. Jones. It’s a pleasure to meet you, uhm, miss Brown, right?”
She keeps watching until he reaches the banks of elevators and presses the up arrow, until he steps inside one of the cubicles and presses a button on the side panel, until he finally turns towards her lifting his head just as the elevator door closes, with him behind it.
“Shit!” She uncrumples the piece of paper and reads it again. “Maybe I’m reading it out of context,” she mumbles to herself. She reads it one more time. ‘Please forgive me…’ “It’s probably a hoax. Besides, even if it’s not a joke, whoever wrote this threw it out. So, he must have changed his mind. What if this is a test? I report it and then I get fired for reading other people’s correspondence. Or I don’t report it and I get fired for being negligent. Shit!” She angrily crumples up the note and tosses it into the trashcan but immediately fishes it out again. “Shit, shit, shit!” she swears under her breath.
The line on her desk starts ringing again and she quickly transfers the call. With the phone still in her hand, she glances at the note, picks it up and reads it one last time. She presses Mr. Jones’ extension number. The phone rings once, twice and just as she is about to slam the phone back down on the receiver, she hears his voice over the line, “Yes?” She opens her mouth to form a reply but before she can utter a word, five burly men dressed in almost identical looking suits barge through the revolving doors and head straight towards her. “Put down the phone ma’am,” the one leading the pack barks authoritatively while holding up his badge. “This is the FBI!”
Tina immediately drops the phone and rolls her chair back, raising both hands in surrender, one of them still clutching the letter. “Wait, wha, wait I, I, I didn’t do it! Here’s the note, it’s not mine, you can have it. I was just about to report it, I swear!” she stammers incoherently. The five men move in on her, a blur of square jaws, cropped hair and grey suits engulfing her. One of them takes the note from her. “What is this?” he asks, turning the crumpled paper in his hand but not actually reading it. “I, I, don’t know. A letter. I just found it. I told you, I was just about to report it.” She tries to regain her composure. “Today is my first day at the bank, I found the note on the floor.” He leans in even closer, his angular nose almost touching hers. Dismissively he drops the paper in her lap. “We’re not here for your letter. This bank is being seized on suspicions of money-laundering. No one is allowed either in or out of the building and you are not allowed to put through any calls, do I make myself clear?”
She nods imperceptibly as she sinks even further into the back of her seat. “Good. Now, I need you to get me a list of all the employees as well as the office time log for the last three months. We will also need access to the servers, so get the head of the IT department on the line for me.” The men haven’t moved an inch but start moving with her as she tries to scoot her chair back over to her desk to make the call. She raises her head in exasperation, her eyes darting to the floor to ceiling glass wall just a few feet away. She glimpses out to the street, longingly imagining herself walking outside in the cold with Charlie, waiting patiently for him to sniff for the perfect lamppost while she endures the overpowering mix of car exhaust and curry spices instead of the nauseating scent of cologne and testosterone emanating from the agents crowding her.
Her eyes catch a movement outside. She emits an ear-piercing scream as comprehension sinks in. Her gut-wrenching scream muffles the sound of Mr. Jones’ body hitting the floor, right in front of the revolving doors…
I wrote this story during a creative writing course I took last year. At the start of the session they gave us each a sheet of blank paper, asked us to crumple it and then write down how it would feel to be that piece of crumpled up paper. It was a warm up exercise to get the pen flowing. Then the actual class began. We were taught how to structure a story and had to write one using the tips and tricks we learned. The above story is the result and that prop of paper is what got it all rolling.