Our Flash Fiction challenge this week at Terrible Minds was to write about corporate abuse. There are a few definitions – regarding crimes within corporations, as well as abuse to employees, etc. So I offered a kind of mixture. 1000 words, as per usual. Enjoy.
A Deceitful Mandate
“As per the new mandate to increase productivity, Ms. Lewes, you now have ten minutes to consume your lunch,” the computer speakers spat.
Startled out of my numbers-induced daze, I glanced up at the now black computer screen and muttered, “Fuck you.”
“Also, as mandated, should you fail to reboot your monitor following the ten minute mark, management shall be informed of your tardiness and penalties will be dealt. Is this understood, Ms. Lewes?”
“Absolutely,” I said, stood up, and slammed my chair under my desk so that the monitor rocked on its slim pedestal.
As I passed the lunch room, now equipped with personal stations possessing large timers counting down from ten minutes—but it wasn’t actually ten minutes by the time you reached your assigned station, usually just seven and a half minutes—I saw Bill and Jenny eating individually in silence, scarfing down their lunch as though food had become a scarcity. In 2015, it had not become a scarcity, but it seemed that any sort of ethics in the office environment had, as well as our lunch hour.
But could we complain? Well, we could, if we wanted to be out on our asses thirty seconds later, jobless in an already crumbling economy, and I had a family to support. That’s right, I had a husband and three kids to feed, clothe, and house, so unless I wanted to live out on the streets like half my friends already did, I had to suck up the bullshit, take my seven and a half minute lunch, smile and nod, and pretend I was okay with the duties I performed on a daily basis.
Jenny glanced up in time to see me pass and offered a nod of acknowledgement. I did the same. There was no time for dialogue anymore, not even between friends.
“Ms. Lewes!” a voice said to my right, causing me to jump. I turned to see Gordon Trecht, my boss’s boss, standing next to the men’s washroom door with his arms crossed over his chest. “Glad I’ve caught you.”
Caught had taken on a whole different meaning in these past few weeks. You were always worried about being caught. Caught taking a longer lunch, caught using the washroom one too many times, caught away from your desk for ten seconds while retrieving a file, caught not punching in the numbers just the way they wanted you to…
“I’m on my lunch, Mr. Trecht—I only have seven—”
“This will only take a minute, Dear.”
“Okay, Sweetheart. Come with me, please.”
Trecht grabbed my right bicep not hard enough to hurt, but forcefully enough to make it known that I was going to follow him. He pulled me into the men’s washroom, and at once I was facing five other men, all bosses of bosses of bosses and of me, standing in a cluster wearing their ten-year-old Armani suits, desperate to appear as though the company was thriving in this desperate economy, but desperate was written all over their faces.
Trecht locked the door behind us. I swallowed, anxious; this had never happened before. Usually I was confronted in a stairwell, and not by six men, but by one or two. Trecht pulled me towards their circle now, but I yanked back. The men advanced and forced me into a gap between urinals.
“Ms. Lewes, what do we have to do to make you understand the significance of your position?” Trecht asked. He stepped into personal space now, and as I glanced back at the doorway, one of the men, Buck Alder, moved towards it to block it.
“I’m well aware of what you’ve asked of me,” I said, trying to control my shaking voice. “What’s wrong? Am I not hiding enough money?”
Trecht shrugged and held up his hands as if he had no idea what I was talking about. “If you fail to perform the duties we ask of you, we might just have to find someone else to do your job. Then, uh…” He turned to Mark Smith and said, “What are their names?”
“Grant’s the husband, and the kids are Sophie, Matt—”
“Yes, yes,” Trecht said. “They’ll all have to live on the streets, begging for food and warmth because you failed to do a simple little thing for us. I mean, we could do it ourselves, but it would look odd if we were staffing a useless accountant, and odd if we didn’t have one, understand?”
Trecht set his hand on my shoulder, too close.
“You’re lucky I haven’t gone to human resources,” I said, “or the cops.”
Smith spoke from behind Trecht now and said, “I assume you did not read your bulletin in full. There is no more human resources department. And going to the cops would lose you this job and your livelihood, Ms. Lewes. How will you afford your cozy suburban lifestyle working in fast food? In fact, I don’t even think they are hiring right now. So tell us, Cindy, do you understand the significance of your position?”
I peered around the washroom now, into the upper corners, under the stall doors.
“There are no cameras in here,” Trecht said, “nor would there be if something dreadful were to happen to your husband.”
“You bastards,” I growled. “You even bat an eye at Grant and I’ll—”
Trecht leaned his weight against me now. Being that he was taller, I had to turn my head to avoid pressing my face into his chest. “You’ll what, Ms. Lewes, Cindy?” Trecht brushed his hand against my cheek and then ran it through my hair. I wanted to vomit.
“We’ll stoop to any level to keep this company’s heart pulsing, and you’re the blood, Cindy. We need you to survive. For the sake of your family, of yourself, don’t cross us.”
My stomach growled as my computer spoke a few minutes later.
“You’re late, Ms. Lewes. Management has been informed.”
© Lindsay Mawson 2011