PAISLEY TIES AND THE JAWS OF LIFE (SAM COHEN GOES TO WORK) • by Jordan Zetterlund

It had happened a thousand times over in Sam’s mind. Mr. Benson would stride into his office, knocking on the door as he opened it, not before. He would stand in the doorway, flattening one of those silly ties against his bulging stomach. He would talk about efficiency, competence, company time.

Sam Cohen would sit silently with his fingers hooked under the desk, feeling the grainy unfinished surface. Solid Oak. He would allow the diatribe to gain some momentum before simply standing up. The sudden motion would be enough to silence Mr. Benson momentarily. The second his mouth opened again Sam would flip the desk over.

He would step over the broken computer monitor and ceramic coffee cup shards towards Mr. Benson, open mouthed, stumbling backwards, and grab him by the tie. He would pull it tight, pushing that perfect Double Windsor knot into his throat until everyone in the office could hear him choke. Sam would let go and allow the terrified little man to grasp his neck and gasp for air before shoving him back into the wall, shattering a framed motivational poster of snow capped mountains with the word “patience” at the bottom.

Sometimes he would give him a good kick in the head before leaving. Sometimes he would wouldn’t say a word. Either way he would walk calmly out of the office, past his slack jawed colleagues, and take the elevator down to the parking lot. He would get in his car, turn off the GPS display screen with its robotic yet soothing voice and start driving. He would drive east, away from the city, until the skyline gave way to thick forest and snow-topped mountains just like the ones in the picture. He would keep driving until he ran out of gas, then get out and start walking.

A specifically detailed rendition of this fantasy in which Mr Benson wore a red paisley tie and turned out to be quite a bleeder was interrupted one day by a traffic jam on the way to work. I-5 slowed to a crawl. Up ahead there were flashing lights. There must have been an accident.

Inching his way closer to the crash site, cars were funneled into a single lane by orange cones.

As he passed, the scene opened up. To his right there was a small black car smashed against the median. The top had been torn off, the jaws of life lay on the cement next to the accordion of a vehicle. Smoke billowed from its engine.

The EMT’s were wheeling a stretcher towards the back of an ambulance. Its occupant lay still in a neck brace. A news helicopter circled above.

Inside the car, he noticed the driver’s seat was empty and the back door was cut out, indicating that there had been at least one person in the back. However, the passenger seat remained occupied. Sam had never seen a dead body before, but judging from the blood and the fact that the others had been pulled from the wreckage first, he was pretty sure he had now. He stared at the motionless body. A young male. An officer slamming on the hood of his car and the sound of blaring horns made him realize he had come to a complete stop.

Back to the speed limit on an eerily empty freeway, His five star safety rated hybrid car suddenly felt claustrophobic.

Were those people on their way to work, he wondered. He checked his watch. His stomach sank with the realization that he was already late and, for just a moment, he envied them.

Why was he doing this? Spending his time in a windowless office, working for some petty tyrant and a company that didn’t give a shit about him. He hated mornings. He hated his suite and he hated his fucking Prius.

He parked in the underground lot, paid the attendant fourteen dollars for the day, and took the elevator to the sales floor. Inside, he exchanged the usual greetings and head nods to his co-workers. All of them steamed, pressed, ambitious. Behind the closed door of his office he collapsed into the chair, pushed aside a stack of potential client profiles and rested his head on the desk.

Sam thought about that young person in the passenger seat of the wreckage. Was he any better off? His thoughts clouded over into a place where post-it notes, power point presentations and words like “synergy” had no meaning.

In that fog there was a clarity. A will that was long ago tamed, tucked into a gray blazer pocket, and forgotten.

His little moment of zen was interrupted by by four quick knocks on the door. He didn’t have to say come in. Mr. Benson was already inside. He was really laying into him this morning. Sam couldn’t hear the words. Just saw his mouth move. He pictured the smoke rising out of that mangled metal coffin on the freeway.

Sam looked to the framed mountain scene on the wall by the door. The caption: Patience.

He let Mr. Benson’s words take up meaning in his ears.

“Maybe the schedule isn’t quite clear enough. Maybe you need glasses, Mr. Cohen, because it looks to me like work starts at nine o’ clock. Not 9:20, not 9:30…”

Sam rested his head back on his desk.

“…and when you do decide to show up, you clearly can’t process the fact that you’re on company time. No, you just walk in here half an hour late to take a nap on your desk.”

Sam leaned back in his seat and smiled.

Productivity, moving forward… company time.

He took a deep breath, then slammed his fists down, locking eyes with Mr. Benson; silencing him.

He grasped the edge of the desk so tight his fingers couldn’t feel the grain of the wood and stood up.


Jordan Zetterlund lives in Seattle, Washington and has recently started writing flash fiction and short stories. He also co-founded a writing and art blog called OKAPI/PASTE which releases a quarterly paper zine.


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Every Day Fiction

  • kathy myers

    This is a masterful piece of writing. I loved the description of Benson and the detail of smoothing his tie over his gut while he nags; couldn’t be more infuriating. You have touched a raw nerve with your topic, yet kept the humor in the revenge fantasy. The image of the knot being ground into the neck of that joker was strangely satisfying for me. Good thing I retired when I did or I might be doing 25 to life somewhere.

  • Scott Harker

    I’m sure this story touched a nerve with many readers, myself included. Haven’t we all been through something similar at one point in our careers (thankfully my current boss is awesome)? this story painted that well-known picture very well, and put us into the middle of Sam’s world.

    I was really, REALLY hoping it wasn’t going to end with Sam doing nothing. The epiphany caused by the crash site could have made him chose any number of reactions to his boss, but the one the author chose was the one I was hoping for.

    Great stuff here. Very entertaining and enjoyable, and a perfect end to my work week. Thanks for sharing!

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A very satisfying read once the story changed tack mid-way. Prior to that, I was getting really irritated by the overuse of ‘would’ (16 times + once in a typo).

  • Paul A. Freeman

    A very satisfying read once the story changed tack mid-way. Prior to that, I was getting really irritated by the overuse of ‘would’ (16 times + once in a typo).