Why did they call them that anyway? In James’ mind there was no reason why “dead” and “line” should ever be used to describe a situation where a financial report had to be submitted to the Higher-Ups; a situation where one could potentially be fired. James made a mental note to call the assholes that compiled the Oxford Dictionary and tell them to omit all words implying horizontal positions in small confined spaces for all eternity from the dictionary.
The word made James’ armpits donate water to his shirt.
He looked down at his writing pad. Words, squiggles and scratches littered the white paper on which he had been doing his calculations. To most people, it looked like the alien writing of an alien race. More than once James had thought of sending it to NASA under the pretext that he had discovered life from outer space. James stared at the squiggles and decided once he had passed away his dying wish would be to have his calculations be bound in leather and marketed as an ancient religion. That is how it all started, right? A dead guy, random scratches, some drawings, a couple of virgins, a fanatical high priest and you had a major world religion. The more he looked at the squiggles, the more the idea grew on him.
“No” he thought “it would never work out. Virgins don’t exist anymore.”
He pulled his eyes away from his pad and looked around the office. It was a small office, the kind that was designed to be the “starter office” – the kind you never really grew out of. James could see a 35-year-old version of himself in the same cubicle in ten years’ time. These small cubicles had a bad habit of growing on you. For starters they seemed to grow a little bigger every day. Each morning for the past six months James had walked into his cubicle and wondered whether his eyes were deceiving him. Surely the cubicle had grown by a millimetre? This mysterious gain of volume without any change in size convinced James he was on to Mary Poppins – that bag was not the only thing that could hold a million and one things while being able to float nonchalantly on a cloud.
The rest of his office was the reason why office workers picked up suicide as a hobby over the weekend. The small desk and chair where he worked were the normal office variety, the generic ones given to the grunts and peons of industry. Their designs implied that whoever had created them only had a vague understanding of how the human spine responded to angular backrests. The carpet was a colour that could only be described as office blue. When James had moved into the cubicle he was sure the shade of blue would come in handy if he ever murdered his boss or assistant. It was just the right amount of blue to hide a stain.
James had wondered if Clinton had the same carpet in his office at the time of The Affair. It must have hid evidence well.
The rest of the office was paper. Stacks and stacks of paper. They occupied the top of the desk and spilled out of the filing cabinet. Crumpled paper balls spilled out of the waste bin like a full popcorn machine. The reams of paper even took over his chair and had relegated his posterior to the floor. From the floor he looked up at the walls, covered with notes, notices, reminders, to-do lists, calendars and the other hastily scratched timetables that formed the basis of his existence. James looked down at his writing pad again, trying to make head and tail of his own writing. He swore at deadlines again.
To understand James’ absolute abhorrence of deadlines, you have to rewind a couple of hours before the opening of this scene. Prior to coming into the office, James had been sitting in the cafeteria having his usual coffee and muffin. He had been sitting by himself quietly nibbling at his blueberry muffin and sipping his black coffee (two sugars and no milk). His coffee and muffin were a hallowed routine for him – they were a raison d’être. There was something therapeutic about sipping coffee and munching a muffin that set a man at ease. The only other time James felt such peace was when he was solving all of the world problems while on the toilet pot.
Without any warning and against all coffee and muffin etiquette, his Blackberry buzzed a reminder: Financial report due in three hours.
Of course James was not one to panic so he only sprinted out of the cafeteria, almost bumping into Mary from reception and headed for his office. He had then proceeded to find the various company reports that needed to be summarised, the stock print outs, the weekly budgets and the various bond papers that should have been tabulated days ago. James had then collected all of these pieces of paper and had flown through them at breakneck speed and drafted a preliminary report that took the form of the squiggly lines and scratches he was looking at now. The draft was usually good enough to hand in; James was good at his job. But today, something was off. Something was terribly wrong. The numbers did not add up.
And the deadline was looming.
James had looked at the Squigglies – they had earned the right to be addressed as proper noun – for nigh two hours and they still did not add up. He had pulled every trick he knew; addition, subtraction, division (long, medium and short), multiplication, cheating, praying, swearing and crying himself into a foetal position and still they did not add up. The Squigglies did not add up. And the deadline was…James looked at his computer screen.
The report was due in nineteen minutes.
Author’s note: Another reworked piece from the old Blogger site. I like James. I think I will serialise him too.