The walls are stripped bare, the cubicles emptied. No more potted plants or flowers, pictures of loved ones, or construction paper devotionals from children. Sharon is mildly surprised that the lights are still on. She has holed up in the 4th floor accounting department waiting for the end.
The entire corporate structure of NCADS had been moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Iowa, for God’s sake. But Sharon isn’t going. She hasn’t eaten anything since they took out the vending machines, but the faucets in the bathrooms still work. She shakes her stainless steel water bottle as if it’s a tribal gourd, listening to the liquid inside to confirm her senses still work. The hunger had betrayed her of late, bringing out old ghosts in the office, faces in the fabric walls of cubicles, voices from the break room: The cackle of the too loud Joan, the quiet disagreements Karla refused to have in her office, the squeal of surprise when Janet had found a birthday card on her desk. So watching the moving crew begin to take a part the palisade of cubicles she had been hiding in, Sharon needs to be sure they’re real. As her labyrinthian fort slowly starts to disappear into flat stacks, it couldn’t be more real. Especially when she sees Dan Jones leading the group of men.
“This is all your fault,” she whispers into the cubicle wall, peering over it at the division head. Some small part of her points out that she sounds like a cartoon villain. It was the same part of her that insisted she go home and begin the work of putting her dead parents’ things away, emptying their home, and getting on with her life. It had gotten very small of late, with the hunger, but it was still there and tries speaking to her now. It persists and grows until she closes her eyes and turns away from the work crew, pressing her back against the cubicle wall and sliding down it as her knees buckled.
She stays like that until her world unhinges and she falls back to lie flat on the neutral gray of the corporate carpet. The florescent lights dazzled her eyes until a silhouette blocks the one above her, a voice asking, “Sharon? Sharon Julipine?”
Sharon bolts upright, eyes burning into the face of Dan Jones, and repeated, “This is all your fault.”
“Sharon, what are you doing here?”
“You said if we hit our sales targets, headquarters wouldn’t have to move, that the cost savings --”
“Would be immaterial.” Dan crouches down next to her, examining her with the kind of caution Sharon’s mother would have used on one of the lost animals she sheltered. He continues to speak softly, voice touched with regret. “I know what I said.”
“But they moved anyway. You lied.”
“I shouldn’t have made that promise,” he concedes. But then something hardens around his eyes and he asks, “Sharon, what are you doing here?”
Clutching the water bottle to her, Sharon replies, “I’m not leaving.”
“Sharon, you have to. You can’t stay here.”
Dan Jones clucks then, reaching to take the bottle away from Sharon, but she holds tight. The tug-of-war quickly becomes a wrestling match, the three strong men who accompanied Jones looking at each other questioningly, uncertain of what to do. Despite days of hunger, Sharon holds onto the bottle until Jones uses all of his greater weight and leverage to rip it out of her arms, but it’s slick with condensation and flips out of his grasp, hurtling towards a window. The cacophonous sound of broken glass fills the room, opening a portal to the outside world through which street noise and traffic can be heard.
The former division head of NCADS Dan Jones stares down at Sharon with all the disapproval he can muster in this strange situation. “Now look what you’ve done.” And the people four floors down can hear the screaming and one of the strong men shouting for someone to call the police.
By Matthew C. McLean