“Bubba,” I say, “I can’t approve this; he’s dying.”
“Oh, no, no, no,” Bubba says. “He’s a real tough one, a live wire; why,
I had a steak with him yesterday.”
No way this man is on his feet, let alone dragging himself to the local
Outback with Bubba. But Bubba won’t let it go.
“Oh, yes,” he says in that slow bass drawl that could soothe the current
out of a live wire, “this man’s a medical marvel like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I don’t believe it,” I say.
“Besides,” Bubba drawls on, “he’s got a family to support.”
“He’s unmarried, no children.”
“But he’s got his niece, lovely little girl, he’s very fond of her, and a
girlfriend with a young son who’s the apple of his eye. You’re a family
man, my friend; don’t be coldhearted.”
“Oh, spare me Tiny Tim,” I say, but Bubba just keeps at it. Drawling
along, unperturbed, a deep-voiced Weeble springing back from every
damning fact I throw at him. I sigh and refer it up the chain of com-
mand, and since everyone at headquarters is a crook and a liar, most
likely they’ll approve it.
I’m not saying there was ever honor in this business. But there used
to be some kind of standard. My father worked here fifty years and
never once had a bad word to say. And then we got acquired, and the
layoffs started. They came in waves, like hangover nausea, even as the
amount of work stayed the same, so that each new round of pink slips
and boxed-up plants and pictures and slumped shoulders alongside security escorts meant the rest of us had to work that much harder. I never
excelled at the work, never cared enough to scheme my way up the corporate ladder. Maybe in the end that worked in my favor. I never threatened anyone, kept my head down, and my number never came up. In the
end, my life’s work has been surviving.
I put off lunch as long as possible because I know that once I start
eating I won’t stop—chips from the vending machine, soft cookies from
the café downstairs, M&Ms from the large pack I stash in my desk. It’s
bad for me, especially with my heart. My daughter always asks if I’m
eating right, and when she comes to visit I stock the fridge with fruits
and vegetables. But the sugar is the only way I can make it through the
long afternoons so silent that the occasional clank of the heating system
makes me jump.
Maybe I should get another fish, for company. I used to keep a little
2.5-gallon tank on my desk with an electric pump and motor, just big