Charles Petheridge-Smythe sits on the edge of my desk.
I do not understand. He uses too many words. Even his name has too many words. He talks around what he wants. He talks about politics and company morale and ‘avoiding any unpleasant misunderstandings’. He says things that have nothing to do with work.
I nod yes. Or shake no. Or dip my head lower when he pauses. His perched position makes me uncomfortable.
I watch the clock in the lower right-hand corner of my monitor.
He has been talking for seventeen minutes.
“—so I’ll take that as an affirmative, shall I?”
I look up. He expects an answer.
“Could you ... send an email?”
He frowns. “An email, Jane? Is that strictly necessary?”
I think about saying yes. About it ‘avoiding any unpleasant misunderstandings’. I shake my head.
“Good, good.” He stands. He smiles. It is directed to the desk opposite mine. To the new girl, Evangeline. “By the end of today, yes?”
He sits on Evangeline’s desk.
I go to see Bernadette.
“Ah ... Dear Charles,” she tuts. “He uses words like a tourniquet, to strangle the meaning from his sentences.”
These are her words. She is proud of them. She stares across the open plan office to where he is perched. She does not like Evangeline.
She used to say: “He that uses many words for explaining any subject, doth, like the cuttlefish, hide himself for the most part in his own ink.”
This is a quote. It is by John Ray, a naturalist born in 1627.
John Ray does not work in our office.
Bernadette calls Mr. Petheridge-Smythe ‘Boss’, or ‘Charles’. Bernadette is his PA and can speak his language. She calls him a ‘honey-tongued devil’. She can translate what he wants into plain speech. ‘Plain speech for Plain Jane,’ Bernadette says.
I like plain. I like my instructions short. I do a good job when I know exactly what I am doing.
The report I prepared yesterday has a problem. It is a Global report, but it needs to not include Africa. Africa is the problem. I need to redo the report. Without Africa.
It takes Bernadette half a minute to explain what Mr. Petheridge-Smythe wants. I sit back at my desk.
I worry about the World map. It shows where the company interests lie. I do not delete Africa. I colour it white. Here be no interests.
I remove the offending sections of the report. Reformat. Reindex. I read through to make sure nothing South of Gibraltar remains.
I wonder what the people who work for us in Africa think of the ease with which they are omitted. I wonder if they know they have been deleted.
I stay late to finish my work. Even the cleaners have left. I stand every five minutes to keep the lights on.
I print the report, check the pages are in order, bind them together. There is a ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign on Mr. Petheridge-Smythe’s office door. The report must be on his desk by the end of today. The lights are dim. He is not there. I open the door.
I was wrong.
He is there.
So is Evangeline.
There is no room left on his desk for the report.
I should have knocked. Mr. Petheridge-Smythe does not shout at me. His eyes are closed. His bare buttocks do not move. They look cold. Evangeline is trapped beneath him. Her eyes are wide. They do not move.
His office is silent.
There is black ribbon around each of their necks. It has left a dark smudge. Typewriter ribbon.
There are no typewriters in the office.
The in-tray is on the floor. It is upside down. Sheets of paper are on the carpet. I think of adding the report to them. I don’t know which way up to put it. I think of picking up the in-tray. There is no room for it on the desk.
Mr. Petheridge-Smythe has his own printer. It sits on a cupboard behind his chair. I place my report in its output tray.
In the morning, the ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign is still on his door. There are no emails from Mr. Petheridge-Smythe. The desk opposite mine is empty.
I finish my outstanding work. There is nothing more for me to do. I sit.