1 - Jim
Jim wished he were dead. Not literally of course, but in the sense that there was nothing imaginable that he wanted to do less than be in this meeting; death being generally accepted as the least desirable of situations, he invoked hyperbole.
Had Jim calculated, this would have been the eighth time he had heard the Heslington story in the three years since he joined the firm, although for the first eighteen months of his tenure he was not a staff manager, just a lowly analyst, so he didn't really have the opportunity to come to these meetings. It would also be the eighth pronunciation of Heslington, this one sounding close to Harthingson, but not quite exactly. Jim didn't calculate. He was devoting himself to self-pity, knowing it would eventually lead to an escape via some dreamy fantasy.
"…when you simply must stop and re-evaluate your actions in the context of the strategic goals. I may have mentioned this Harthington situation to one or two of you before." The Decrepitude smiled as if some of the meeting attendees were in on his little secret wisdom. Although, to refer to anyone seated around the beautiful, overlong mahogany table as an attendee was imprecise. No one was in attendance other than corporeally.
The Decrepitude had an imperious yet grandfatherly way that revealed itself to be merely well presented nonsense after about three minutes, whence it became nothing but an incidental drone--background noise to accompany whatever random thoughts occupied one's attention. "It seems that a while ago the Hatherington Corporation came to the conclusion that they needed help with…"
Death, as a metaphor for escape. The death of Jim would give rise to a new, improved, happier Jim. Nodding in agreement for the benefit of anyone who glanced his way, Jim repositioned his arm so that he could glance at this watch. He was confident that it would be a good fifteen minutes before the conclusion of Hestingdon, so he was safe to allow himself to drift away.
Jim dreamt of casting aside his Hermes tie and Coach briefcase with a defiant flourish. He would accept a position as a manual laborer, a solid workingman. His new employer would be suspicious of someone with Jim's advanced educational credentials, but he would dispel such concerns with his genuine, scrupulous efforts. He would work the night shift, having set his VCR to capture the more important shows for later viewing. Completely independent, in existential solitude, he would toil throughout the night, finishing in the morning just as the distastefully hectic day shift was about to begin. Leaving as the world was arriving and arriving when it left. Each night he would pause and count himself lucky to be able to move so effortlessly against the tide of the rat race, lucky for such a straightforward job that he could come in and do by himself--no noise, no distractions, no complications. The physical labor, loading appliances (or machinery, or something else heavy) on trucks for morning delivery, would make him strong and send him home in the morning serenely spent and sore from his accomplishments. Sure he was alone, but he would bring his dog, a well-behaved German Shepherd (or sometimes a Setter) which would afford him some companionship. Jim would load the trucks with his dog laying quietly in the corner, chewing on a rawhide bone, completing a vision that challenged Norman Rockwell for honest, work-ethic simplicity. He would discipline himself to two short breaks and one longer one for the equivalent of lunch. No one ever came to interrupt in the night and in the morning when his labors were complete he would drive home, the sunrise in full view, shower to ease his muscles, watch the video from the previous night (fast-forwarding through the commercials), and sleep a deep, deep sleep. The life of a noble worker; someone who knows when a job has been completed, who knows whether he has succeeded at his task, knotted muscles as evidence. There must be a satisfaction to that, or if not, at least an appreciation of one's place. Not a smelly, beer-gutted, fat neck; a laborer in the romantic sense, with the spirit of duty and peace of conscience. A fair exchange between him and his employer, his labor for pay as a mutually beneficial transaction.
"…imagine what I found." The Decrepitude was reaching crescendo as Jim dragged himself to the surface just in time for the finale.
Jim's lips formed the words, "the year-end accruals had been reversed twice," and in the residual haze of his fantasy he was not sure whether he had said that out loud. No one was staring at him in horror so he assumed not.
"The year-end accruals had been reversed twice," said the Decrepitude.
Jim made a mental note to resurface earlier in the future, just in case.
But who was he kidding? Truthfully, nobody is satisfied with manual labor. Even in his fantasy Jim stretched his blue-collar life into spiritual salvation and economic theory. He was no more a romantic laborer, if such a beast actually existed, than he was a rock star or an astronaut--two fantasies he had given up in adolescence. Besides, he didn't have a dog and never, even as a child, deluded himself that he was responsible enough to care for one; what would that do to his social life? Better he stick with something more suited to his station, wot?
Whoa. Where did the "wot" come from? Lately Jim had noticed such Angloisms emerging abruptly from his sub-conscious. In his mind, these utterances were even accented properly. He could not pinpoint their cause, but he was grateful they had been confined to his thoughts, so far.
The Decrepitude finally closed. "Let's put an end to this and get back to work, shall we? We're adjourned. Jake would you hang back a moment?"
Jim glided out of the room with rest of the crowd. No one ever quite knew what to say after one of these meetings. They were utterly inscrutable. For a time, some attendees would gather and try to intuit some deeper meaning, but it became apparent to all that their interpretations merely reflected their own personalities, not any external truths.
Back in his lime-green, windowless, cell-like office there was voice mail, there was e-mail, there was paper mail. All would be attended to, but first coffee, then call the garage for an appointment, then maybe a donut, and there was always the Web…