John, my line manager told me he was going to fire Chuck, and judging by his expression, he wondered why I wasn’t happier about it. I had liked Chuck. He ran a little league team and had sent his eldest off to college.
Thirteen people die at work every day.
I had been going in, blithely accepting that the worst I had to fear from work would be inertia. The thing was, I had been away and come back, but I had not come back empty handed any more than I had returned unscathed.
John could not meet my gaze, clapped me on the shoulder and said he was glad to have me back before he wandered off. I got a soda from the machine and stood against the wall, drank it’s sparkling, chilled sweetness and rested the cold tin against the back of my neck.
Chuck had come to see me in the hospital, crying as much for me as himself, told me that John had cut their maintenance budget back to the bone. If the building fell down, there was money for something but the unstable fluorescent light fitting above my desk had been pushed back to the next quarter. Then whilst I had been updating my CV, it had fallen and swung a perfect arc of descent into my skull.
Three weeks in a coma. No more video games. Taking the warnings about flashing lights on television shows seriously. Mood swings that might be how my broken brain did things now, or the trauma of the accident.
I made a point of spending time at my desk. I did not bother logging into the system because my passwords had been swept out of my brain along with my seventeenth birthday and my mom’s recipe for peanut butter cookies.
John took the long way round, past my cubicle and clapping me on the shoulder. He never stayed more than he absolutely had to, a damp hand on my shoulder and then on his way again. Another meeting.
I had been staying into the screen for a few minutes when I heard the first shot. A loud voice, familiar and rough with effort, then more shots. People got under their desks, or roadie ran to the exit but I got up from my desk.
I walked out into the corridor. My head had stopped hurting and when I saw Judd from Sales fall forward, the front of his shirt shredded and soaked with blood and then Chuck, his eyes bulging in their sockets as he swung the barrel of his carbine around. I glanced down and saw John crouched into the fetal position, tears streaming down his face.
I waved to Chuck and he looked at me, eyes that were blank, black stones pressed deep into his sockets.
John scrabbled away. Chuck was strode forward and John had made it to the other side of the office before he was seen. He held the carbine in his arms, cradled it like an ailing pet.
‘Why aren’t you running, Glo?’
I sighed and put my hand on his shoulder. He flinched and stepped back.
‘What’s the point? If you’re going to shoot me, you’re going to shoot me.’
Sometimes I wondered if the accident had shut things down in my head or woken things up. I had read about a man who took a railroad pin to the head, became a promiscuous drunk afterwards. The change in personality seen as damage, when maybe it was like a malign update to your software.
I used to cry at news stories about abused children. Now,with a gun ready to go off in my face, I felt nothing. Chuck stared at me, not entirely gone but still disbelieving and committed to a course of action that could only end in death. His, but with a few extra passengers for his final ride. Death by cop, they called it. I wondered if it took as much courage as swallowing pills or drawing a blade down the length of your arm.
He stared into my eyes, I stared back and a small part of me wondered how much damage had been done to me already. He walked past me, his breathing rapid and shallow, like he had survived something.
Chuck managed three people before Brett from Security, a man who couldn’t manage socks that matched, blew him out of his sneakers in the conference room. The three ring circus of emergency services came in after that, and I sat against the pavement, looking out at nothing in particular.
In my head, the buzz of the fluorescent was louder than anything else. It drowned out the concerns of the police and the paramedics, even John’s voice was unintelligible but I kept smiling through it.
There were more than thirteen that day.
I took it to be a sign. Of what, I could not say.