February 2019 short story
It began as a practical joke. But by the end of the day, nobody was laughing. It seemed innocent enough at first, because Jerry and I have a history of playing practical jokes on one another. He was the one to start the whole thing, if I’m not mistaken. He had pulled a prank on my very first day at the office. It made me like him instantly, and it made the last five years bearable.
Five years ago…
I was escorted to my cubicle by an assistant to someone that I wouldn’t remember the name of after this morning. My cubicle was in a room filled almost wall to wall with rows of more cubicles. Each and every one of them looked exactly the same. The walls of the cubicles even went up high enough to block the view of the windows.
Perhaps they were trying to make it so no one had a better view than anyone else, or maybe they didn’t want their employees contemplating windows too much.
The woman who walked me to my desk asked me a question, but I hadn’t heard her.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you ask me something?”
“I asked if you needed anything else?”
“No,” I added. “Thanks for showing me in.”
I sat down at my desk and for the next several hours, reviewed and edited chapters for next year’s text books. This is what four years of college and three years of grad school had led up to. I was now an editor for a large textbook company. The job wasn’t glamorous, but I was tired of eating ramen. Too many of my classmates were still working minimum wage jobs and barely getting by, some of them with more education than me.
I didn’t need glamour. I needed money.
I worked steadily until lunch when I followed everyone else down to a cafeteria with grey walls the same color as the grey of the cubicles we’d just left behind.
I ate my packed lunch and didn’t speak to anyone. I was almost finished with my fruit cup when someone moved the chair in front of me and sat down.
I glanced up from my sugary syrupy peaches and looked at a man who reminded me of my brother. He was grinning from ear to ear.
Everyone spoke in whispers and hushed tones, but I still heard snippets of their conversations.
“Claims it was an accident.”
“They are reviewing the video now.”
“Cops said not to leave.”
They actually thought I killed him. They didn’t understand. I couldn’t kill him. He was my best friend; in fact, he was my only friend.
Every day when I left this place, I went home and read until I fell asleep. I got up the next morning and did everything on repeat. The only deviations to my very routine, mundane life were my interactions with Jerry.
Five years ago…
I went back to my desk after lunch and sat down in my chair.
Every person in the office broke out into raucous laughter.
I actually fell out of my chair and hit the floor. The laughter started over again.
As I righted myself, I noticed there was a well-placed whoopee cushion on my chair that was the same shade of black as the chair fabric.
Jerry came around the corner and helped me up off the floor.
“Welcome. Now you are one of us,” he said.
The coroner had come and gone. The cops were asking everyone questions.
I was sitting in my cubicle, but I hadn’t done an ounce of work.
Did I kill him? It was just a practical joke. We did things like this all the time. How could it have killed him?
My mind was frantic and I was trying to recount my steps for that whole day. What did I do? I didn’t get much time to dwell.
“Come with us,” a cop said to me barely above a whisper.
I didn’t resist or argue. I gathered my things and went with the police.