Exiting the Shoebox

James Mason

Baines waited to feel anything other than tired. He leaned against the adipose maple-wood desk that squeezed all of the space out of the room. The wind from the broken window ruffled the stack of agendas destined for the two o’clock progress meeting that neither he nor Mr Malison would be attending.

Baines watched the breeze flick each page on to the floor until they filled the carpet, obscuring its nauseous repeating S pattern. From his position by the desk, the bar charts piled together into an urban sprawl of high-rise buildings: a two-dimensional city where people spent their lives clambering on wobbling pillars of effort towards something they assumed was fixed and certain.

The breeze was clearing the odour of Mr Malison’s aftershave, although some of it lingered. An artefact now, he supposed, like the picture Malison kept on his ludicrous desk. From the hole in the window, Baines could hear street noise: raised voices; sirens.

​Baines relived the moment Malison went out the window. He saw it now in a disinterested way. It was as if he was looking at the scene replicated in miniature – the oblong office fitted into a shoe box and him peering into it.

​When Malison hit the pane, it bloomed outwards with an abrupt, awkward noise that Baines felt in his molars. Malison flailed his arms before toppling out amongst tiny pieces of glass that flashed white as they fell. Mr Malison had not flashed, he wheeled in space then tumbled down the wrong end of the telescope. When he hit the car roof, he made the noise of a cardboard box being stamped on.

​Malison might have yelled something when Baines shoved him. Certainly, his wide, complacent face split open like a melon. Moments before this, he asked what the hell Baines thought he was doing.

​That was after he told Baines that they were restructuring their 20/20 vision, outputting a new corporate ethos that required a rethink and a ninety-degree reangle on present projects falling under Baines’ remit.

​He made Baines wait for forty minutes outside that tiny, smug office. Baines waited with his back to the flimsy partition wall and listened to Malison talking too loudly on the phone. Everything at that moment had been compact, balled too tightly to untwist and smooth flat again, although neither of them had known it.

Before their appointment, Baines locked himself in his usual toilet cubicle and took five huge gulps from the hip flask he kept hidden in the cistern. The morning’s only other interruption was the angry voice on the other end of the phone saying ‘Hello? Hello?’ The voice cut off abruptly when he replaced the receiver.

Baines’ alarm leapt into life at five thirty. Before that, he lay in bed and felt that year inside him: a tottering pillar of reports and audits, of pinch points, strategic cul de sacs, top line analytics that bottomed out and meant we have to put a stake in the ground so the blue-sky thinking can run around it. A tough year to validate, with no story behind the numbers just thick black bars on charts, like towers blocking the sunlight. Three-hundred-and-sixty-five-days whooshing past. All those blank diary pages, flashing white as they tumbled behind him.

​Waking, he remembered today was an anniversary. A whole year since he’d ripped up her letter and thrown it in her face. He’d tasted blood in his mouth as he stood at the window of their poky little flat and looked down into the street and saw her walk to the Jag, its engine running. She opened the passenger door and the car’s interior light burst over Senior Executive, Mr Howard Malison, recently promoted.

James Mason has in small and superficial ways been a poet, editor and comedian. His work has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and Horla magazine, as well a forthcoming anthology by Black Pear Press. He won the Tortive Theatre 101 Flash competition twice and had a story shortlisted in the 2020 Cranked Anvil flash competition. He lives in Worcester, UK.