There was enough gossip floating around Salem Industries to turn even the most reliable of employees into a cunt. Beyond the recent string of layoffs, benefit cuts, and a general uneasiness amongst those in nicer suits, sat a daunting truth. At some point, we’d all be obsolete. Dealing with this reality became somewhat of a tossup depending on the person and day. Our eyes hurt from tuning out email sentiments at regularly scheduled times. Don’t panic just yet. There’s only a chance things might not be here tomorrow. Despite the hubbub amongst programmed administrators and mute nerds, only one workingman in the whole building maintained his cool. Burt Salvaggio was closing in on retirement, gray streaks peeking out on the sides of his otherwise jet-black noggin. His prescription shades were thick, but still somehow flattering, especially amongst the technologically deceased. Chipper to a fault, Burt said hello to everyone, rocking his maintenance tag proudly. It was spring when one of us heard about his impending vacation; the news gathering steam as it spread from coffee machine to bathroom stall. Burt had recently re-connected with his high school sweetheart via the interweb. A great deal of mystery surrounded the circumstances, this woman inviting him to visit Florida, even offering up her couch to save money. He couldn’t contain his excitement, telling all those passed in-between vacuum sweeps. The men were beyond encouraging with their pats on the back, while the ladies instructed an often floaty Burt to use caution. There was no telling what kind of trouble awaited his arrival at the state line. We all took our shots when he was out of range, perfecting light jabs in-between keystrokes. While everyone wanted the best for Burt, we couldn’t deny the odds. It seemed unlikely everything would work out, what with all the catfish out there. Burt’s optimism didn’t amount to much outside of those grey walls. People were more inclined to beep their horns then let someone pass. We took bets, scribbling code on whiteboards to confuse all surrounding spies. It seemed overwhelming; most expecting his lopsided return after a week of paid leave ran out. Some of us remained positive, perhaps a little hopeless in our romanticism. True love had to be out there, and in the case of Burt Salvaggio, why not a twice-divorced, bleached blonde living in a dirty condo with two cats and an ornery Schnauzer? No pictures were posted of their exploits, nor did we hear anything valid from his so-called work buddies. It was a week of silent passing as if we were all in mourning, heads down if only to notice how unclean the carpet fibers had gotten. Then Monday hit, most of us nearly forgetting the stakes had we not jotted them down. No sign of Burt that whole day made us almost giddy. By Tuesday, speculation rose along with anxiety levels; clients breathing down our necks with hopes of superiority. We appeased them best we could, although most minds were elsewhere, cooking up fantasies. There were large spaces to decorate, tiny spats, and many lingering glances from the opposite sex. Intrigue, appeal and only the good stuff; we were drenched in make-believe. The married ones feigned relief while subscribing to unhealthy notions. They’d found the right one, or at least settled for the sake of others, It was better that life stayed boring instead of unruly, always wondering what if. We single people craved that little extra something; a swell of pop music before the closing credits. The sluts in their fancy cars wanted only to ignore the impending fever, knowing that they’d eventually have to settle for somebody just crazy enough to make them sane. Friday night we were all past formalities at the bar, cursing the jukebox despite implemented sensitivity training from corporate. Stray glances turned to shots and wobbly rides back across town; most willing participants blaming the season. We woke with intentions of keeping nocturnal activities under wraps; the recent discovery of tattoos, birthmarks and landing strips better left alone. Soon it would be hard to remember who left with whom, all of us under the influence of future stipulations. Burt was different; the last Renaissance man, or perhaps a little too slow to catch on. Joanie saw it first, scribbled in blue ink and tacked with care to the breakroom freezer door Monday morning. I guess this what mama meant when she said stay away from the pretty ones. If ya play with fire, you’re gonna get burned – Salvaggio.
We let his misery wash over us, some joking, others remaining silent as if remorse was more acceptable. It made sense, but we’d never know all of it; how he lasted an extra week and eventually returned to us almost the same. Memes and blips would fill the space until quitting time, when all our heads swam seamlessly through the turmoil, eyes filling with salt and dust.
Christopher S. Bell has been writing and releasing literary and musical works through My Idea of Fun since 2008. His sound projects include Emmett and Mary, Technological Epidemic, C. Scott and the Beltones and Fine Wives. My Idea of Fun is an art and music collective based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (www.myideaoffun.org). Christopher’s work has recently been published in the Madison Review, Kentucky Review, Red Rock Review, Commonline Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, The Gambler, and Talking Book among others. He has also contributed to Entropy and Fogged Clarity.