Friday, January 25, 2013

All Work And No Play

Damian blinked and the world dimmed. He swore he could hear the clack of his eyelids closing. As they fought back up, fluorescent light lanced his eyeballs. It felt as if someone had spooned sand into his irises. Fridays were usually like this, especially when one visited a bar the night before.

The world returned to full speed once Damian's orbs were fully exposed. He ground a palm into each socket, hoping in vain to massage himself into wakefulness.  The clock on his computer read 3:01 PM. Two hours to go.

A pungent smell frolicked above the cubicles. Coffee. Of course there was coffee. The steaming black liquid was the lifeblood of engineers. It didn't matter the time of day; there was always a pot on. A terrible, horrible, exceedingly cheap pot. That is, unless you were friends with the guy on the third floor that ground his own beans and kept a spare brewer under his desk. Unfortunately, Damian was subjected to the free stuff.

It free for a reason.

Even so, the smell drew Damian to his feet. He periscoped above the cube walls like a rabbit sniffing the breeze, wary of hawks. Other heads popped up, swiveling. Should two rabbits happen to meet eyes, they would quickly look away as if ashamed at being caught contemplating something other than work.

Ben laughed loudly, oblivious, probably watching another video online. The noise startled Damian into action. He grabbed his brown-stained, handle-free mug, a streak of white plaster down its side, and went off in search of the watering hole.

The oasis was populated by animals of all sizes, jockeying for superiority. Rhino and giraffe stared each other down–or up as the case may be–and then back at the black wellspring. Elephant hefted a handful of creamers that could be flung at Zebra's face, should it become possible to advance his turn. Hyena cackled off to one side with Wildebeest. When Lion rounded the corner, mane resplendent in its dignified perfection, Gophers at his heels, each animal stepped aside. One does not bite the hand that feeds, especially on the wild office savanna.

Damian waited his turn. A second pot was put on. More beans sacrificed to the engineering gods. More perfectly good water dirtied.

The paper in his pocket twitched. Paper couldn't do that, of course, but Damian would have testified to it, hand on the Bible. His fingers found the napkin, folded in a small, neat square. He watched the drip, drip, drip of the coffee. Most of the animals around him were ones that had been too tired, too lame to chase down the first pot. In their sullen company, Damian wanted to scream.

Do it, Inigo urged. Unleash the beast.

Damian turned and fled back to his desk. He would return to the pot a bit later. It was... that had only taken seven minutes? It had felt longer. Time skewed on the savanna.

The paper twitched again. Damian freed it from his pocket and spread it out lovingly in the open space before his keyboard. The number was hastily scrawled in pen. He consulted the memory for the thousandth time. Chills danced along his spine. His stomach did a flip.

The digits burned into his mind, couching themselves deep within the delicate folds of his brain. For a while, he just stared. Should he call? He took out his cell phone and dragged his thumb across the screen, opening it. No bars.

He held the phone up. No bars.

He spun in a circle. No bars.

That device of yours usually seems to perform better near the break room, Inigo suggested.

Damian had been known to make calls from the break room. Usually to his mother. He stood up, gazing once more over the cubes. The animals seemed to have returned to their pens. The Lion was nowhere to be seen.

Perhaps it was coffee time, now. Surely, there would be some left. If not, he could always put on another pot, maybe make a call while it was brewing. He had time to kill; it wasn't even four yet.


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