Sarah Jane Justice
Adam holds his head high as he walks out of the corner office, ignoring the sheepish fear that attempts to pull him down. His fingers twitch as he winds his way around the cubicles. He wonders if he should tell anyone. The idea of making an announcement leaves him sweating, and he starts thinking of scenarios where he can casually mention it to one of his co-workers. The inevitability of gossip means he would only have to say it once.
A notification alert sounds. Adam sees three heads swivel in his direction with the thrill of petty voyeurism in their eyes. His co-workers glance at each other and crane their necks as he opens the Slack message. The announcement from the boss is decorated with congratulations and confetti gifs that leak passive-aggression into the replies. Adam tells himself that he should be grateful he didn’t have to make the announcement himself.
Trawling through his inbox feels like fishing in a lake that everyone knows is empty. Adam thinks about the work he should conclude, the list of tasks he should outline for whoever will claim his desk after he is gone. The preparation for being replaced leads him to imagine himself planning his own funeral. The cubicle is an open casket.
Saturday holds a stranger shade of relief than usual. Adam paces around the house. He watches TV. He avoids all social engagements and calls it a holiday from awkward small talk.
The latter half of the weekend does not feel like a day of rest. Adam irons his shirts and prepares responses for the questions he knows he’ll be hearing throughout the week ahead.
“Have a good weekend? Get a taste of what it’ll be like to miss us?”
The boss grins like a shark with a secret.
“Not really. Had a steak so good it was hard to taste anything else.”
Adam is pleased with his reply, but exhausted by the stress of needing it. He plugs in his headphones as he sits at his desk.
The comments from the boss continue, giving power to similar comments circling the office. Adam steadies himself and works on the art of changing the subject. When his co-workers head his way, he jumps to speak first, providing them with lists of tasks that he will be sliding into their to-do piles. The conversations die down in quantity.
Adam celebrates the half-way point in silence. He scratches a number on a sticky-note with pencil. In his mind, it reads back to him in the voice of a prison documentary narrator. The cubicle changes shape from an open casket to a holding cell. He rubs his eyes and counts under his breath.
The boss’s jokes about deserters and sinking ships have become repetitive enough that they’ve lost the veneer of humour. Without more than an awkward half-laugh in response, the comments are stripped down to their intent. They are criticisms, accusations that never have to be addressed because the man in charge “is only joking”. Adam scratches another number down on another sticky note and thinks of the employment reference he can’t get around needing.
The end of the work week. The last Friday Adam will spend under this roof. The last unenthusiastic five o’clock beer, laced with the anticipation of going home and putting his feet up. The boss’s jokes seem to have dried up, but he still appears to reach for them before shutting his mouth. Adam wonders whether someone has had a word with him, or if he became self-aware enough to realize how they sounded. He suspects the former.
A Saturday spent in preparation for the new job. He goes over the maps, reads the emails, and wonders if it will be at all different from his current day-in day-out existence. He closes his laptop and turns on the TV.
A Sunday spent bracing himself for the last few days. Adam tells himself that he will be strong enough to shut down any more frustrating jokes, kind enough to pretend he will miss anyone from the office, and dishonest enough to convince them he will stay in touch.
The home stretch begins. Adam limbers up before leaving the house. Thankfully, everyone seems to have already gotten the farewell attitudes out of their systems.
There are snacks in the breakroom. At lunch, the boss makes a speech that sounds hauntingly similar to the one he made after the last person quit. He asks if Adam wants to say anything. Adam replies that the boss’s speech summed it up well enough. Everyone else appears relieved to finish the paper-cup toast and be done with it. They pick at the snacks and go back to their desks. Adam puts together the last of his handover lists, signs out of his computer, and says the same goodbyes he has said every working afternoon for the last three years. He receives the same half-hearted waves in response and exits the building.
Sarah Jane Justice is a multi-disciplinary writer and performer. Her work has been published by outlets such as Caustic Frolic, The Bombay Review, Synkroniciti, and Black Beacon Books. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, an Australian Poetry Slam national finalist, and recipient of numerous spoken word competition titles. Find Sarah at Facebook, Instagram, & Twitter.