She loved him. I like to think that’s why she left me. They had known each other before me. In a time in their lives when she was ready and he was not. I came along later. After what moments of fumbling lust and displaced emotions had expired, she escaped me and waited for him.
He had been terminated the day before. In the words of an office-wide email; “released of responsibilities.” I had only wished of being released of responsibilities. The company must have felt they needed someone older, someone better at tightening loose numbers, as his replacement was introduced in a follow-up email; complete with a picture of a non-smiling, grey-haired frumpy man, complete with a multiple bullet-pointed outline of experience, accreditations, achievements, blah, blah, belch. (I was drinking a soda when I read over the list.)
The company provided invoicing and point of sale computer hardware – and software that accompanied the hardware – to businesses that didn’t know any better. After a fast start regionally, it fell stagnant in its growth – hence his termination. I was, at the time, an entry-level support staff associate. I took phone calls of the companies that were having problems with their technology and directed field associates to the location or patched-in someone with more knowledge. I could never help. I sat in a tight cubicle on the sales floor and kept an eye on her. Before his release of responsibilities, she was often in his office.
When he came back to work wielding an M-16 assault rifle and yelling obscenities; I wondered where he had found an M-16 and how much he had had to drink. He liked to drink. I liked to drink. After work, we often found ourselves at one of the half a dozen name-brand bar and grills that surrounded the office complex; tipping back bottles of beer or vodka cocktails; eating buffalo wings or fried dill pickle chips.
He looked terribly disheveled that day; like he wandered out of his termination meeting and into a hazy crack den and hadn’t left until he decided to wander back into the office with an assault rifle. I thought, briefly, that without the rifle he resembled an amalgamated character from old blues songs about being broke, not finding any work and getting drunk. He wore a wrinkled yellow button-up with a loosened tie that exposed the fattened upper fibers of his middle chest and the fringed wisps of a tattoo; an homage to the hurricane that swept away his childhood home in Florida. At the bar, women always asked to see it. His loose-fit pleated chinos were rolled above old running shoes. I guess he planned on running away.
We were all sad to see him get fired. Most in the office liked him. Even me. In the perpetual duel for her love, I knew he was the better — even if he didn’t know he was competing.
Nearly everyone went under their desks or ran when he began popping rounds into the ceiling. He was yelling too, lots of curses. He said he sweat blood for the company. He said he was the go-to guy. That he had been there since day one. As I kept my eyes slightly above the cubicle wall line, he walked closer to my desk. I could jump over my cubicle and tackle him if I had to. If I were adept at that sort of thing. But, he was quite large. Much larger than me. If we were in the entertainment business he would be an angry professional wrestler and I the pipsqueak referee that gets in the way of his turnbuckle slap-punch rampage. If I were to handle him, I’d need an equalizer. Then she approached him. She walked slowly, almost in a squat, and talked very quietly. I believe I heard him say, “If you don’t get out of my way I will kill you.”
She said later, that wasn’t what he had said.
“Well what did he say?” I asked.
“Not that.” She said. “Nothing near that.”
A while back I bought a good pair of knife-edge shears from a fabric store. I bought them because, shears simply sounded better than scissors. Coworkers always came by to use them. I liked to have a good pair of shears because I liked to cut things from newspapers and magazines to tape to others’ desks or computer monitors. It was fun for me and gave me something to do when I wasn’t on the phone with Pa’s Auto Parts, because he couldn’t figure out his electronic invoice scanner and why was it better than a carbon paper copy. “Technology Quickens Commerce” was the company’s slogan. It had once been, “Speed Betters Business” but that was abandoned for an obvious reason.
I taped a headline to his door once. It read; “Florida in line for another round.” That was an inside drinking joke. I called him Florida sometimes as a nickname. I liked having inside jokes with him. In a way, it kept me closer to her. She laughed at his banter jokes and bar-top anecdotes the way a supportive mate should; with encouragement and superlative hilarity. I thought his sense of humor to be recycled and dull; but I too laughed just the same.
He cracked more shots into the ceiling. With each burst, muffled cries and yelps followed from the remaining workers hiding beneath their desks; tucked in the corner of their cubicles, each muffling words into a phone for fear of instant death or hope of a savior. Bits of chalky tile and insulation fuzz made a quick dusty descent from the bullet bursts into the ceiling. The fluorescent lights buzzed, flickered and popped. In a few more rounds, the fire suppression system would trigger and we’d all be soaked and the entirety of the office would become a giant insurance claim. I suddenly saw my immediate future as a chore of filling out paperwork and responding to phone calls for interviews with attorneys and claims agents. I’d have to post my absurd resume on a myriad of job websites, address hundreds of human resource representatives in the greeting of another hundred absurd cover letters to please give me an opportunity and thank you for your time. Then I’d interview with dozens of phony-smiling, business-attired managers who had already made their new-hire decision before they shake my sweaty hand. I made my decision then.
I grasped the metal handle of the shears firmly in my right hand. “Please,” I heard her say. “You don’t have to do this.” I sprang up, using my chair as a springboard. The chair rolled back and I suddenly fell forward over the cubicle partition. (I could have told you I leapt up and out with the deftness of an attacking jaguar, tackled him, took the rifle from his hand and stabbed him in the arm for good measure. But, no, I am far too clumsy for any embellishment.) As I fell into him, bringing the partition with me, I still held on to the shears. His musty odor shocked me as he always smelled like part of his daily routine was to pass by counter-top cologne testers. He felt like he had a fever. I fell with my eyes closed, tumbling and smacking body limbs like I had in junior high football. “You never know a man until you’ve bounced off his body,” I remembered a coach yelling. My head hit against a door frame and I blacked out.
We were in kindergarten, her and I, stretched-out on the multi-colored rope-rug laid over the thin carpet floor in the reading corner of the classroom. Lunch was just consumed. We listened as the teacher read aloud a story about a princess wandering far from her castle. Her dress and her hair were wound and caught in the bristles and thorns of a thicket. Vicious animal predators growled and hissed and lurked in the shadows of giant cypress trees. She cried out. She needed to be saved. I looked across the other cross-legged and lazily sitting students; she sat on the far side against the wall, knees tucked beneath her, with her arms crossed and a pout drawn down her face. This brief dream is as clear to me as any actual memory. More clear than the memory of what I had just done to him. I wished to have known her then, as a child. I wished to have spent a lifetime with her already. Maybe I could have saved her from such an awful sight.
As I looked about myself, our legs were tangled together and my shears stuck out from the side of his neck. His glossed-over eyes were focused on an image I couldn’t see. Miniature pink bubbles flowed down his chin from the corner of his mouth, followed by a spasm of soft gurgles. She was by his side. She cried terribly. I had never seen so much blood.