Here’s how shit-canning works at our shop.
Near the end of the day one is summoned to a conference room to sign papers and abide ritual expressions of sympathy. Then, one must leave the building immediately. Shortly after close of business, maintenance workers descend upon one’s cubicle. By morning, one will have melted, thawed, resolved into a dew. It will be as if one never existed.
Art Grimes called it being Raptured.
Art stands just under five-and-a-half feet tall. Dripping wet in a wool suit, which was the way he used to arrive at work on rainy days, he may have weighed one hundred-twenty pounds. If you introduced him by saying something like, “Art is a systems analyst,” he’d correct you: “A systems analyst is not what I am. It’s only what I get paid to do. What I am, is an artist.” His art was sufficient to land small roles in local theater productions. But his dream was to play a Shakespearean lead.
We became friends over lunch one day. Of our boss I said, “A pox upon him.” Art was surprised I knew what a pox was, and joined me in wishing a venereal disease on the son-of-a-bitch. I could tell by the flicker in Art’s eyes he found all of this amusing. But he didn’t smile. In all the time we worked together, he never did.
On a Friday in February, against the rules, I had a space-heater going. Just before 4:00, hearing footsteps headed toward my cube, I unplugged the heater and kicked it out of sight.
It was only Art. I didn’t know it, but he’d just been Raptured and somehow eluded the winged monkey assigned to escort him from the premises. I plugged my heater back in and said, “Well met, Art. Wouldst join me in a flagon of rum after work?”
He didn’t look at me. For several seconds, the only sound was the hum of the heater fan and ice pellets strafing the window outside. At last, addressing the window as if it were a fourth wall, he said, “Blow, blow, thou winter wind, / Thou art not so unkind / As man’s ingratitude. Now is the winter of our discontent. If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly.”
“Art, you know better. Those lines are from three different plays.”
No flicker of amusement in his eyes. No response, at all.
Minutes later, he was back in Human Resources, where security guards pried his fingers from the neck of a subaltern. Fortunately, Art did no real harm. He didn’t even get jail time, although part of the deal was a stay at a local psychiatric facility. With some of the other residents, he started a theater company.
I went to visit, hoping to offer what comfort I could. If he were in the right frame of mind, I planned to kid around the way we used to at lunch. Maybe some reference to the Marquis de Sade.
I saw Art standing in a patch of sunlight, delivering Macbeth’s Sound and Fury speech to a window across the room.
He paused. Scribbled a note in the margin of the script. And then …
Then Art did the thing I’d never seen him do. He smiled.
He didn’t see me. Nor did he need my comfort.
I made an exit of my own.
Ted Lietz is a freelance writer and reformed marketer. His work has been published in such places as Every Day Fiction and Flashquake. Everyone has to be somewhere. He happens to live in Pittsburgh.