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The Day We Left The Cubes
We shuffled into the building holding paper cups filled with steaming coffee. Some of us carried half eaten bagels and muffins. We waved and smiled at Diego as we passed the security desk, and then we took the elevator up to the twelfth floor offices where we circled the cluster of grey interconnecting cubicles in the middle of the room until we came to our own. Once inside, we took off our coats, sat down, and turned on our computers.
We avoided direct eye contact with any of them. Their spacious glass offices, the ones with the floor to ceiling windows that afforded them stupendous views of the Bay and both bridges, surrounded our sad grey warren like a brilliant halo. We did glance their way at 10 a.m. when we saw them all hurrying down the hallway. “Important Meeting,” a few of them mouthed.
It was 10:05 when we received the email marked “Urgent” from Jeff, the accounts assistant in Cube 3. “Is This Fair?” the subject heading read. There was a spreadsheet attached that listed their salaries in one column and ours in another. The discrepancies between the two sets of numbers made us gasp out loud. “Meet me in the large conference room in five minutes,” the email said, and there was a PS: “I have locked them all in CR2.”
We stood and blinked at each other over the tops of our cubes. “What The Fuck?” someone mumbled. We thought this came from Nadim, the Operations Assistant in Cube 11, but we couldn’t be certain.
The large conference room was full of early May sunshine. Outside, seagulls flew around the clock tower of the Ferry Building, and far below, on the Bay, we could see one of the Blue and Gold Ferries moving slowly towards Sausalito.
Jeff was seated at the huge oval table, a copy of the spreadsheet and a roll of tape in front of him. We all stared at him and then at each other. Despite our daily proximity, we were near-strangers. We had bonded occasionally in the lunch room over our shared contempt for them. We mocked and imitated things they said and did. Recently this had reached peak levels of hilarity due to the appointment of a new Executive Director. Behind his back we referred to him as ‘Pony.’ He tied his long, grey hair back with a small band and it hung there, greasy and limp, exposing the tiny gold hoop he wore in his right ear. Oh, how we despised that hoop. We all knew from the get-go that he was untrustworthy, despite the constant talk of “transparency” and “open door policy.” Over sandwiches and bottles of Snapple, we took turns to mime elaborate skits that involved a lot of flank smacking and lassoing and trotting.
Jeff told us that he had hacked into HR confidential files and retrieved their salary information. “It’s not right that they make so much and we make so little,” he said. We nodded, and we could feel the resentment rising in our chests. He’d also hacked into the Corporate Security email account, and sent Pony and the rest of them a message requesting an urgent meeting in CR2. He’d told them not to bring their phones or any personal belongings. Jeff took a breath here. He was nervous, we could see that, and it endeared him to us. Nebbish Jeff, we marvelled. Who knew he was so clever and so bold?
Once they were all inside the small conference room, Jeff had discreetly turned the lock. “Whoo-hoo!” someone yelled. “I think we should confront them,” Jeff said. “Are you with me?” he asked. We all nodded and said,“yes.” Some of us knew already this could only end in tears, but Jeff had chutzpah, and he was brave, and he was one of us.
They gazed at us like goldfish. Pony was standing behind the glass door, the rest of them were seated around the table. Pony turned the handle a couple of times. “It’s locked,” he said. Jeff pressed the spreadsheet onto the glass, then he took a step back, pointed to it, and said to Pony, “Is this fair?” We all crowded behind him. A few of them rose from their seats and peered at the spreadsheet. Pony was already scanning it, and we saw anger and indignation move across his face in a small wave of muscle tension. The rest of them took a step forwards, murmuring, unsure of what was going on. Pony stroked his grey goatee. We detested that damn goatee.
It was the finger wagging that proved too much for Nadim. While Pony ranted about consequences and demanded that we open the door, Nadim marched up to the glass and yelled “Step the fuck back, Pony.” Some of us gave quick yelps of laughter. Despite our frantically beating hearts, our dry mouths, our almost unbearable anxiety, hearing Pony being addressed as ‘Pony’ to his face was hysterical. One of them reached for the phone that was on the table, and Jeff tapped softly on the glass and mouthed, “It doesn’t work.” Nadim lifted his hand to Jeff and they grinned and high-fived each other. Nadim made a slicing motion across his throat at them, and Jeff gave the two-fingered “I’m watching you” sign, which we thought was hilarious.
We helped ourselves to sandwiches from the lunch room fridge. The sun shone through the window and we basked in its warmth. While we ate, Nadim pushed himself up and down the hallway in Pony’s state of the art swivel chair, and the rest of us prayed he wouldn’t go full on Columbine before all this was over.
After lunch we wandered through their offices, peering into their desk drawers, rifling through the contents inside. We thought we might find something interesting, something that revealed their inner lives, but there were only breath mints and hand cream and throat lozenges. We strolled around Pony’s office, astonished by the sheer size of the room. We lounged in his swivel chair, which Jeff had finally been able to retrieve from Nadim. We put our feet up on his desk and stared at the framed photo of him with his wife and two children. Their stupid faces and rictus grins turned our stomachs, and we placed the photo back, face down.
Someone ran to lock the main office door and someone else went to check on them in CR2, reporting back that many of them were weeping, and that Pony had removed the band that held his pony tail in place, and now looked like an old and defeated Jesus.
At 2 p.m. Jeff said, “Let’s destroy those cubes.” And Nadim said, “Fuck, yeah.” The cubes were made of shoddy materials and came apart easily. We used keyboards and three hole punch holders to dislodge the hinges that held them in place. “Take Down That Wall, Mr. Gorvachev,” someone shouted when the first piece toppled, and we all laughed. “Why grey?” we said, as we pounded and kicked. “Why not turquoise, or seafoam?” When all the panels were dismantled, we stood and looked at the rubble around us.
At 3 p.m. we left the building. Jeff phoned Diego right before we made our way down the stairs and told him there were staff locked in the small conference room on Floor 12, and could he please come upstairs and let them out. “We’re leaving, Diego,” Jeff said into the phone, and held it out so that we could all shout goodbye. Each and every one of us loved Diego.
We were silent as we descended the stairs. When we emerged into the sunshine, we gathered together in a group. We felt alive. We felt electric. We felt ready for anything.
Jeff started to jog, beckoning us to follow. He was light and fast on his feet. We focused on the back of his head and started to jog too. He was running towards Market Street. We quickened our pace to keep up with him. We saw him pull at the corners of his shirt and unsnap all the buttons. He held his arms out at either side and increased his speed, his shirt flapping wildly behind him in the breeze. He was running full pelt now and heading in the direction of the Bay. We could see it in the distance, sunlight dappling the water. We all hurtled towards it.
Kate O’Grady lives in Stroud, England. She won 1st prize for Bath Short Story Award 2022, was shortlisted for The Bristol Short Story Prize 2022, and longlisted for Bath Flash Fiction 2022. Her short stories and flash fiction have been long listed/short listed or placed in Reflex Fiction Flash Fiction Competition, The Phare Short Story Competition, Exeter Short Story Competition, Gloucester Writers Network competition, and Stroud Book Festival Short Story competition.