This year, I decided I’m going to become a real bad bitch. I’m nobody’s punching bag. I’ll show them.
My therapist told me that it’s ok to have boundaries, so started to picture all the boundaries I can erect around me, boundaries piling up like a fucking snow fort, and me in the middle, eating straight from the can. Not even microwaved. That’s a boundary. Nobody can touch me inside my boundaries.
So it’s a real drag that they’re knocking down the building while I’m still inside.
If they kill my fish, I’m quitting.
All day long, in one-minute intervals, a wrecking ball collides with the bricks outside my cubicle. This building, the one in which I’m sitting right now. I hear the whine of the machinery rev up, and then comes the grand slam. You can feel the vibration ripple the air on the tip of your nose, and the next second, a cascade of rubble crumbles to the ground like breakfast cereal. Inside the office, the plants shiver, the kind of ugly greenery installed to warm up a space, but which can never be killed, the kind that seem to maybe even like the neglect. What’s wrong with a little personal space, anyway? My coffee laps at the walls of its mug. In the beginning, this all used to give me headaches, but I’m getting used to it.
They didn’t even ask me to move my office. I can’t see who pilots the crane: his window is filthy and scratched. Without him visible, it’s easy to imagine the crane as autonomous, smashing the walls from boredom. I can relate. I hope he’s having fun.
Every time the crane connects, my fishbowl rattles. It’s going to kill my fish, I know it. His name is Jerry, and he’s one of the few things I like about this place. I wonder what it’s been kicking up that I’ve been breathing in. It could be my imagination, but Jerry’s water has been looking cloudy. I’m probably a day or two from developing a cough.
I help raise money for the symphony, and everyone else in this office is old and rude. They have boring taste in music. I stamp and seal the envelopes that we send to the elderly people who send them back stuffed with a check. Some of the money comes in after they die. We call that a “legacy” donation. The names get printed on a card they hand out to the old people who show up to hear Beethoven and Handel. They should call it the “you’re next” list.
Always the Beethoven. Never anything interesting. It’s what people like in this town, and if they keep performing it, we’ll keep getting the envelopes back. Dead music paid for by dead people.
It’s a little bit funny, what’s going on out there. I might record it and play it back over a loudspeaker when it’s over, just to piss everyone off. It would do this crowd some good, to hear something new. It’s art if I call it art. Here’s something new, grandpa. It’s what the kids like these days. We call it ambient gravel.
I never actually finish projects, so Beethoven has nothing to worry about.
It looks like they started at the far end of the building, day by day coming a little closer. I don’t know where they’re going to stop. The part I like the most is that moment between the whine and the hit: that’s when you get to savor the knowledge that something really big is coming. What suspense. Clare, who is an idiot, sometimes says, “Wow,” as if it’s the first time, even though it’s been going on for six days.
Jerry looks pissed today. I came in this morning and his little frilly fin had a tear. He must have run into the side of the tank and got caught in the plastic plant. This shit is really stressing out Jerry. It’s not supposed to be a dangerous plant, not when people aren’t tearing the building apart with cranes while I’m trying to work. I can see why he’s upset.
I didn’t think anything would bother me more than Clare’s tapping. Clare taps on her desk all day with her acrylic claws. She has them painted colors that make them look like more dime store candy than fingernails, and I wish the crane would aim closer to her desk. She takes the longest lunches of anyone in this office. I started recording what time she leaves and when she comes back, and four out of five days last week, she was gone longer than our allotted 45 minutes. She’s not out having some kind of power lunch. The reason I know that Clare is an idiot is because I listen to her talk to her sister on the phone for two hours each day when she comes back from her power lunches.
All the while, that crane never quits, swinging around like a big, dumb animal. It reminds me of the dinosaur exhibit at the museum, all that thick flesh stretched over jawbones and spinal columns. One big, vindictive dinosaur with a vendetta for my building, swinging its neck and slamming its skull into the bricks. That’s a dinosaur with some boundaries.
“Wow, what a racket!” yowled Clare, too stupid to think of anything to say besides point out the most obvious thing, the giant crane we can all feel smashing into our building. “How long you think we’re going to have to put up with this?” We already know this; the director emailed the schedule around last month. It will be at least a few more days. Then we need to clear out our desks and move to a temporary office, and then they’ll finish leveling our floor.
Who wouldn’t want to see their office leveled? Our desks were entirely too close in my opinion. The director is an advocate of what they call the open office, which he said encourages collaboration and innovation. It’s really just a way for him to spy on us at work. I know it was all theater, since Clare barely lifts a claw, and anyone actually watching could certainly see that.
“I don’t know, Clare,” I said, without interrupting my typing. I was setting up another form letter to thank one of the suburban silvers for their generous donation. What did Clare care? She could just go take a long walk.
Clare started muttering to herself and swinging open the filing cabinet, fiddling around to find a stapler or something. The cabinet needed greasing badly, and the screech made me long for the crane to return. Maybe it was just Clare yawning. Maybe I’ll play the recording in the office tomorrow and use it to drown out Clare, updating Donna over the phone after she gets back from 45 minutes of salad-stabbing, and who likes this all so much.
“Clare, come here.” I just had this idea. “Roger asked me if you could pick up a delivery downstairs, something about the printer.”
“Are you sure?” she asked. “You know about my sciatica.”
“I’m just telling you what he told me,” I said.
She picked up her purse. I’m sure she thought she could add a cigarette break to the errand. Nobody needed a pickup down there, I just bought myself an extra fifteen minutes of peace and quiet while she would have to ride the elevator. Just me and the smashing.
When she came back upstairs, justifiably confused for once, she glanced at me and scrunched up her mouth as if to suggest I were crazy. But I’m the only sane person here. Thanks for the quiet time, I mouthed to the back of her head as she walked back to her desk.
When I came in this morning, my fucking fish was dead. Jerry, with glassy eyes, floated at the top of his bowl, staring at the drop ceiling. A thin layer of plaster dust peppered his limp little body.
“Did you send back the carbon copies of the work order for Roger?” Clare asked from across the aisle.
“Not now,” I said. My fucking fish was dead.
“Roger called and said they need the signatures confirming the demolition zones or we’re in big trouble with the contractor. He said it’s two weeks overdue. You have those, right?”
She was probably huffing coffee straight from the little plastic cups. She was high on hazelnut. Anything to avoid responsibility, right, Clare?
“Don’t you remember that packet Roger asked you to read and fax last month? The signoff for the construction crew?”
I didn’t actually read the packet, I just checked off all the boxes and stuck it in a drawer. I meant to fax it over but it’s not my fault there’s a wrecking ball outside and Clare’s tapping nails inside. It’s distracting. Anyway, this is a brainless office for brainless people and they didn’t need to waste a cell of my energy on their stupid projects.
“He needed those forms because they’re only supposed to demolish part of the building, and they’re going to do the whole thing if they don’t have the updated forms.”
Real rich: Clare trying to bully me. She can’t tell me what to do.
“No, sorry, I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. It was true. Boom: boundaries.
Clare paused a minute. “You’re kidding, right? Did you tell Roger you didn’t send it? He really needs to know. Maybe I should call him.” She turned and looked out the window, and I swear you could hear the gears grinding under her thick skull.
So what if they were only meant to knock down part of the building. It’s as if she were saying this was my fault. I’m not the one driving the crane. Believe me, I wish I were.
She turned back and looked at me, for a few seconds longer than I liked. Go stand behind a boundary, Clare. I wonder if my health insurance would cover boundaries made of drywall.
“Well, I guess we’re going to live with it now,” she said, brightening quickly. “At least you have Jerry to calm you down!”
I waited for her to disappear around the corner and I excused myself for a walk. I took a deep breath of air, filling my lungs with powdered rubble. Maybe I’d get lucky and come down with something; then I could sue.
I waited for Clare to leave for the day and pulled out the binder that contained the forms. Two proposals and a couple of sets of blueprints, and a checklist of zones diagramming the entire complex. Something about a renovation to the wing that, it seemed, was our wing. I probably didn’t need to leave this lying out for someone to find. I could see where I’d blacked out all the checkboxes, not just some.
Look, here’s what you need to understand. The whole place was a dump anyway, and I honestly was doing us all a favor by — ok, inadvertently — ordering the entire building demolished, not just part of it. Roger could figure it out when he got back from his trip to Florida, where he was swallowing deviled eggs with the olds while pumping their checkbooks. He brought along the harp instructor from the conservatory with whom I think we all knew the real pumping was happening. In between lessons, she had a part-time job playing Led Zeppelin instrumentals at the schnitzel joint on the interstate. I went one time, and ended up with a mild case of food poisoning.
It’s Saturday, the last weekend in our office. Everyone spent the past two days boxing up the contents of their desks to move to the new space: framed photos of too many kids around a dog in a Christmas sweater, a world’s-best-whatever coffee mug, you get the picture.
I came in to organize my desk without Clare sauntering over and asking questions. Monday is the day we were all supposed to be out of our wing, which is when I guess they’ll knock the whole thing down. The entire office is empty, just one big tunnel of fluorescent tube lighting humming over area rugs the color of dirty oatmeal. If I reorganize the binder a little bit, I can say the forms got lost if anyone asks, which Clare inevitably will.
I am going to quit real soon. It will be easier to leave if my things are in order, so it’s good I never brought in much to begin with. Show your personality! Clare tried to coach us in a staff meeting about office culture. As if they deserve to see mine.
You could sustain yourself for a week with the crumbs in this keyboard. It’s disgusting. I’m not cleaning out Jerry’s bowl while Clare gawks. She’d enjoy it too much. She probably poisoned him. She needs a hobby. I have some glass cleaner, and one of those cans that blast dust from computers. It makes a honking sound that reminds me of Clare’s voice. I wonder what she does on her days off. Probably hanging out with some filthy grandchildren or making ugly crafts. She has a book club, and spends holidays serving poor people soup. What a martyr. What a showoff. Maybe she has a lot of friends, but they don’t know what I know.
I’m a little surprised that the crews are working on a Saturday. I assumed they took the weekends off, but it’s cool of them to do this when people aren’t around. They’ll see my car in the lot, so I’m not worried about them knocking this place down with me inside. Unlike most of the people in this office I’m sure they’re not idiots. To be honest, I’ve begun to find the vibrations almost soothing. I brought my little foam earplugs to cut the high registers and it doesn’t even give me a headache anymore.
I might just sit here for a while and enjoy the quiet-loud-quiet. The demolition feels a lot closer since when I left on Friday; several yards further in our direction at least. They’ll know someone is inside — I don’t have to say anything — they will know when to stop. I deserve this, to sit here at my desk and not have to answer any questions. This is how it should be every day. I’m sticking up for myself, I’m taking up space. Wait until I practice this on Monday in the new office, and that will show them. I can’t wait to tell my therapist.
That last one, that was a loud crash. A crack just appeared in the window, and I think I heard a ceiling tile shake loose. The wrecking ball is getting closer. Now I can hear the steel itself ring out when it hits the brick, more than just the thud. It sounds like C major. How’s that for a symphony!
I don’t care, I’m going to sit here. It’s my office too. I deserve this. They know I’m in here. They can see my car.
I deserve this.