undid the shackles from her ankles. Teale lifted the headset from
her ears and reached for her purse.
It was break time at the Westar Horizons Office Complex.
to God, you think they'd listen . . .
Down in the crowded smoking lounge Teale lit a cigarette. She felt
a slight breeze to her left and found that Rhonda had plumped herself
down almost at her elbow. Rhonda groped in her purse and came up
with a container of lip gloss. As she smeared maroon across her
face Teale was reminded of a child that had gotten into her mother's
you think it's even?"
Rhonda turned her face from side to side for Teale's benefit. Teale
was careful to make her cursory inspection seem like a thoughtful
just fine, Rhonda."
Nelson's coming today." Rhonda drew a brush through her thinning
chestnut hair. "I want to look my best."
Dr. Nelson was the company psychiatrist. Teale had met him during
her routine psychiatric profile, and he had given her a prescription
look fine, Rhonda." Teale lit up her second cigarette and inhaled
deeply. She hoped her indifference wasn't too obvious. It wasn't
safe to keep company with gossips like Rhonda. Teale doubted Rhonda
would last the year.
started as a soft moan which swelled until it filled the smoky room.
The sound grew in volume to an earsplitting screech. Startled, apprehensive
faces glanced furtively around the room and at the green-suited
guards stationed at the door of the smoking lounge. After a few
heart-stopping seconds Teale discovered the source of the noise.
It was coming from Sarah, who was standing in the corner, mouth
open, her eyes wide and unseeing. The scream continued, filling
the hazy air.
guards reacted quickly. Two of them entered the lounge, siezed Sarah,
and wrestled her to the floor. Her face was pinned to the gray linoleum.
As soon as the cuffs were on Sarah was hauled roughly to her feet
and marched out the door of the lounge. The guards were completely
silent. Sarah's wail continued all the while. No one else talked;
no one else could move.
it was over. Teale glanced around her, knowing what would show on
the faces of the rest of the women, as she was sure it showed on
her own -
glad it wasn't me.
the tension dissipated and the light chatter resumed. Teale took
another drag on her cigarette.
the second time this month Sarah's lost it," Rhonda whispered
to her. "Maybe she's pregnant or something, hey?"
like this were never discussed. That rule wasn't printed in the
Behavioral Handbook; it was a fact of life. Teale frowned. "Rhonda,
be quiet. Don't get into trouble."
don't care any more." Rhonda clamped a hand on Teale's wrist
and used the end of Teale's cigarette to light her own. "I
don't care. They can do whatever they want to me."
stay away." Teale drew her hand back as if Rhonda were a rattlesnake.
shrugged, got up and wandered over to the vending machines in the
east corner of the room. The buzzer sounded, and Teale got to her
feet and lined up at the door with the others. Teale and her co-workers
were escorted out to the elevator by a guard. The elevator bell
rang. They all got on and were carried back to the place where they
her desk Teale glanced at the clock. 10:15 AM. They were always
so precise here, not like the other places where she had worked.
She remembered the chaotic scheduling at Tanner Plaze and the confusion
it had caused everyone. The Support Staff Guild had been contacted,
arbitration had taken place, and the working conditions had improved
somewhat. Nevertheless, when the offer to work at Westar Horizons
had come Teale had not hesitated. The pay was better and there were
more toilet breaks.
put on her headset and adjusted the removable ear pieces. Guild
recommendations for Medical Transcription advised that earpieces
be replaced every three months but Teale had made hers last for
eight. She supposed she was proud of it.
pressed the pedal and the dictation machine queued up the tape with
chunk. As she typed she tried to
imagine life on the third floor, the floor directly above her own
office, but no images came to mind. She sighed. It was going to
be one of those days. Sometimes she couldn't think of anything to
think of, no matter how hard she tried. During a time like this
it was simply best to "zone out," as her Guild sponsor
had told her.
your fingers move and your ears hear, but rest your mind.
advice worked today. Keeping her mind focused on an imaginary beach
by the ocean, Teale typed steadily until noon, only stopping to
change tapes. The familiar lunchtime sound of shackles being undone
sounded throughout the building, making her once again aware of
her surroundings. It was a Tuesday; according to the mandatory rotation
she was one of the last to be unchained. Teale extended her legs
to the guard helpfully.
temporary peace she had attained quickly dissipated as she trotted
into the hallway. She hated Tuesdays. Long lines of people had already
formed at the elevators. Even though there were four elevator cars
Teale had to wait ten minutes of her lunch hour before securing
a place in one. She had to wedge herself between two company executives,
and found it hard to make small talk with them. She was relieved
when the elevator doors opened in the basement and she could join
the line in the cafeteria.
was telling her yesterday," murmured a woman directly behind
Teale in the line, "I told her that this could not continue
and that we'd have to take steps."
then what did you do?" responded her companion eagerly.
told her that Human Resources would have to deal with the situation.
She didn't take it very well. White as a ghost, I tell you."
you sent her anyway."
was I supposed to do, give her a third piece of paper after she
wasted the first two sheets? The little bitch. If she screws up
again . . . "
line moved ahead, so Teale didn't hear the end of the woman's threat.
She slid her tray along the railing to the entrees. In front of
her were steel tubs of mashed potatoes, baked beans, and breaded
objects. None of them looked hot. Teale chose one of the breaded
objects and the potatoes, and pushed her tray along the steel guide
rails to the desserts. Damn it, Jell-O today, Teale thought, and
then glanced guilty around her to see if anyone had noticed the
rebellious expression on her face.
of the servers, busy scooping potatoes with an ice cream scoop,
paused to look at her. Teale reached for a quivering orange heap
with simulated enthusiasm. There were yellow chunks suspended in
the middle of the gelatin.
one of the tables, Teale gently nudged Ruth's tray to one side to
make room for her own. It was a chain reaction - Ruth's tray in
turn nudged Laura's, Laura's pushed Brittany's, and so forth, through
the line of support staffers down to the end of the cafeteria table.
Each tray moved precisely three inches. There were a few murmurs
but no one confronted her directly about her impoliteness. Teale
was rubbing her left ankle. There was a large red mark there. Teale
shot her an inquiring glance and Ruth shook her head ever so slightly.
Obviously, there had been some sort of trouble with Ruth's left
shackle and Ruth had complained to the manager. They had tightened
the shackle in retaliation and Ruth was now suffering the consequences
of her indiscretion. A finger of ice ran down Teale's spine. She
herself had very nearly complained about the dim lighting in her
cubicle yesterday, but had changed her mind at the last minute.
told me that Mark was up for executive promotion to the third floor,"
Laura told Teale without preamble, leaning over Ruth as she spoke.
Her breath stank of salami.
doesn't deserve it," remarked the woman on Teale's right. "He's
"I've heard that on the third floor they
don't measure your toilet paper," Alice informed the listening
women enviously. "That's what I heard."
not the only perk up there," Marie retorted from across the
table, wiping a smear of baked bean sauce off her chin. "I
hear you can have all the staples you want, girl, you better believe
chorus of disbelieving NO WAYs came from the group. One of the red-suited
cafeteria guards shot them a warning glance. Marie blushed in embarrassment
at having drawn his attention. "Well, that's what Shari told
me, and her husband used to work up there," she continued in
an undertone. Teale had to strain to hear her. "He worked there
for 18 years, that's what Shari told me, and the benefits are fantastic!"
Several heads nodded in silent agreement , and they all bent over
their potatoes and beans.
didn't finish her food. She hadn't much appetite recently, it seemed.
She dumped the contents of the tray into the recycling bin and placed
the tray neatly atop the stack. As they filed into the hallway to
wait for the elevator cars she saw Ruth trying not to limp. Teale
prepared her sentence carefully and kept her voice casual.
Ruth, I hear that zinc oxide is a great beauty treatment for dry
it really?" Ruth smiled mechanically as she replied. Teale
noticed there were dark hollows under her eyes.
supposed to moisturize your skin cells," Teale continued, touching
her own cheek. "Just put some on and cover it with a piece
of gauze, leave it on overnight, and wash it off in the morning.
I read it in Woman's
Life last week."
Teale," Ruth replied gratefully as the elevator doors opened.
"I'll try it."
at her work station Teale's fingers flew across the keyboard. She
tried to think not about Ruth, her best friend, but about supper.
Should she cook tonight, or just heat something up? There was no
one else to cook for. Chicken salad? Fish sticks? Ruth had looked
pretty bad. Salisbury steak? Breaded shrimp? This wasn't the first
of Ruth's indiscretions. Turkey hot dogs? Maybe a package of instant
noodle soup and a cheese sandwich. Teale tried to stretch it out,
defer the final moment of decision which would close the subject
and leave her mind empty and wandering again. Pineapple pizza? Popcorn
with muffins? Ruth had been disciplined too often lately. Her days
here were probably numbered already. Teale's fingers ground into
the keyboard. What difference did it make what she ate? Or if she
ate at all? Poor Ruth.
frantic beeping of the overloaded keyboard buffer brought Teale
to her senses. A bead of sweat ran down the bridge of her nose as
the Office Manager arrived to stand over her, scowling.
the trouble, Teale? Did you take a little nap, or is your machine
seized on the potential explanation with relief. "Mr. Hendrick,
when I try to type very quickly the keys stick. I think the keyboard
Hendrick's face relaxed into an almost fatherly expression. "Oh,
don't worry about that. I'll have Mr. Landis stop by during your
afternoon break and replace your keyboard. That way you won't lose
any production time."
you, sir." Teale watched him go. When Mr. Hendrick was out
of sight her shoulders relaxed again and slid into the traditional
hunched posture of the Support Staff Guild.
was a close one, Teale, be careful,
she told herself firmly. Thinking and feeling were things that didn't
belong in the office.
turned back to the keyboard and poised her fingers above the keys.
The Song of the Guild rang in her ears. "Fingers fly and documents
flow; we staple papers as we go," she sang under her breath,
typing faster and faster, working her foot pedal furiously.
afternoon break buzzer rang and Teale left off typing, allowing
herself to be unshackled again. It didn't do to miss breaks. Teale
always took hers religiously. Grabbing her purse, she pushed her
way to the head of the line, where Ruth was standing. Teale noticed
that she was still favoring her left leg.
she whispered to Ruth as the elevator bell chimed.
can't help it," Ruth mouthed
silently back at her, and the elevator doors closed upon them and
hurtled them down to the smoking lounge in the basement with breakneck
"Printer down!" came the cry from
the front desk. Other cubicles picked up the cry and echoed it through
the maze of little offices. "Printer down! Save and Log Off!
Save and Log Off!"
automatically obeyed, not feeling her fingers touch the mouse as
it raced to Save and Log Off. A succession of different-colored
screens flashed in front of her as the computer Saved and Logged
Off. The reflection of the Cerulean Blue Default screen color on
her face flattered her complexion. She reached surreptitiously for
her purse, intending to brush on a little more blusher. As she held
the brush poised, another cry went up.
Clear! All Clear! Log Back On! Log Back On!"
put her blusher back in her purse and Logged Back On. She typed
again for a while, singing under her breath. No one seemed to notice.
sound penetrated her self-induced reverie. Not the break buzzer
or the toilet call, it was another, harsher sound. Teale knew that
sound from experience, although it was hardly ever heard in this
particular building - the Call to a Public Execution.
was mandatory. Teale waited until the guard came to unshackle her,
and whispered a question. This was permitted. The guard, being underpaid
and overworked, did not answer her. She was left to guess who the
unlucky victim might be as she shot downward to the basement with
the rest of the staff.
entered the Hall of Meetings and stood with the others in the Phalanx
of Disapproval as a man in a gray business suit was hauled struggling
up to the podium in front. The air in the room was electric. The
man was dishevelled; his modestly pinstriped tie was askew and he
was panting audibly. One of the guards untied the blindfold from
his face. It was no one she knew. Teale felt relief welling up inside
her. The President of the Company mounted the podium and put a paternal
arm around the bewildered man.
charges have been made and are understood by the guilty party,"
announced the President, patting the trembling businessman on the
back gently. "This man's corporate philosophy is not in line
with our own. We find that this man's continued employment with
us will not promote the growth and development of this corporation."
low moan came from the doomed executive as he realized what was
happening. An answering collective sigh rose up from the waiting
crowd of personnel before him. Then a hush fell over the Hall.
felt suddenly faint. The Hall of Meetings had become stifling. The
President withdrew his arm from the man's shoulder; a bland mask
descended over the President's face and left it expressionless,
blank. She could hear the groaning of the businessman as he was
forced to kneel. There was one crack of the pistol - only one, and
it was done. The crowd was still. The people filed out into the
hallway and back onto the elevators without a single whispered word
exchanged among them.
glanced at Ruth, but Ruth turned her head away. Teale understood.
at her desk, Teale took out the Sign of the Guild, her carpal tunnel
brace. She put it on even though she didn't need it today; it made
her feel somehow better. She adjusted her headset and stared out
the large bay window (shared with the cubicle just adjacent to hers)
at the roof of a neighboring office building. Her fingers went on
typing of their own accord, the electrical impulses feeding directly
from her ears into her fingers while bypassing her conscious brain.
Theresa, her Guild sponsor, would have been proud of her today.
blue-suited guards on the roof of the neighboring building were
changing. She could see one salute the other and then disappear
through the service door down into unknown regions. The replacement
had black hair and, she imagined, must also have startling blue
eyes. Doubtless those eyes would crinkle pleasingly whenever he
smiled. His face was deeply tanned.
willed her consciousness onto that roof. She imagined that she went
up to the guard, smiling, wordless, slowly peeling off first her
white silk blouse, then her skirt, the guard astonished at first
and then eager, helping her undress, laying her down on the rough
surfacing gravel of the rooftop . . .
toilet call buzzer went off and her heart almost stopped from the
shock. Momentarily paralyzed, she could not reply as the guard who
unchained her asked her if she needed a glass of water. Unsteadily
she walked to the restroom and found she was unable to choose which
stall to use. The sound of rushing water distracted her. Teale went
back to her desk and sat in her chair. There came a light tap on
her shoulder; it was Karen, her immediate supervisor.
you OK, Teale? You look like you've seen a ghost. First Public Execution?"
nodded; this saved her the trouble of an explanation. Karen stood
over her, clucking. Teale willed her telepathically to leave; nothing
thing. You'll get used to it. We don't have many around here. We
used to, when Ms. Taylor was in Management. Now it isn't so bad.
We average about two per year, I think. Just take a deep breath
and start typing - you'll be OK. Want some water or something? An
shook her head. "I'll be OK," she repeated, smiling up
at Karen. "I'll be fine."
you need anything, just press your call bell and I'll be right in."
Karen rested a hand on Teale's shoulder for a moment, then pulled
herself away as a guard approached them. The guard (why did they
all seem faceless?) turned away, disappointed, Teale thought.
No trouble here.
always cheered her up. Her right hand reached out to grip a stack
of papers and her left one groped for the heavy black stapler -
she touched it, lifted it, and was brought up short by the chain.
Since the staple gun fight at the courthouse last year it had been
mandated that all office staplers, both manual and automatic, be
attached to the nearest wall by a thin chain, "no less than
5 inches but no greater than 10," according to Workplace Act
Number 37. Teale was within the 10 inches, but somehow the sight
of the chain seemed to take her breath away. She wondered if she
were coming down with a cold - everything seemed unreal today. She
put down the stapler, lined the loose papers up neatly and put the
stack carefully back in her Out Basket.
for something else to stabilize and control her feelings, Teale
gazed down at her hands. My
hands. What do they want? She
had never asked them that before, but it felt like the proper thing.
Teale addressed them directly: "Hands, what would you rather
do?" They looked up at her, mute, it seemed, with distress.
Terminal distress, she thought, glancing at her screen. Her shoulders
shook with silent laughter.
did they want, those hands? To pick roses in a garden and arrange
them in vases? To hold a man's hand? To caress a baby's cheek? To
play concert piano? To labor among the poor in Guatemala?
came to her suddenly, as if the slender implements had really spoken
- they didn't know.
They didn't know. They would never know.
And having no answer was worse, Teale realized, than any answer
she could have devised.
she turned back to her machine. Instead of the comforting gray of
the active word processing program the entire screen was blank.
It had turned Cerulean Blue Default. There was a single message
embedded in the center:
OF WORK FLOW
IMMEDIATE DISCIPLINARY ACTION REQUESTED
bead of perspiration appeared on her forehead, hung a long moment,
and then fell onto the keyboard. The worst had happened. Her workstation
had caught her not
working and had turned her in.
computer was a very sophisticated and sensitive device. From the
little plastic card which all Support Staff were required to carry
and produce upon demand, her tracking information had been routinely
loaded into her workstation computer on her first day at Westar
Horizons. The machine knew all about her output, her comings and
goings, her physical characteristics and distinguishing marks. Her
machine knew almost everything about her there was to know. Perhaps
the machine even knew about her sexual fantasies. Teale grinned
faintly at the screen.
distant buzzer sounded in the hallway. There was the sound of running
feet. Ruth's haggard face rose up in front of her. Teale stood up
and faced the window. The neighboring building blurred and vanished
from her sight. She had never realized how large the sky was from
her window. It seemed to fill the whole of her vision until she
could see nothing but blue. Suddenly Teale wanted to reach that
blue, be in that blue, more than anything she had ever wanted in
her life. There
was a weight tugging at her ankle, but it didn't stop her. Something
gave way and Teale reached the window, really
reached it for the first time, pressing
her face against the cool pane and straining toward the sky until
she could hear the crack of the intervening glass. Her chin was
wet, but things like that weren't important any more.
she was free and flying, up into the Cerulean Blue Default sky,
not hearing the snap of the undone holster behind her, simply hearing
the Song of the Wind in her ears as she floated up into the Cerulean
Blue world which, she realized, she was already a part of, now and
OF THE GUILD
is Copyright 2000 by Julian French and is published at feoamante.com
and Feo Amante's Story Time with the author's permission.