Prose

The Office Argument

By: Bailey Stephens

Location: Office Basement

Date: September 29, 2017

Time: 2:12pm

A young woman sits silent in a windowless room, surrounded by a sea of desks. She is deeply consumed by a thick red-bound novel. As her eyes scan the pages, a pair of circular frames slowly slide down the brim of her nose. Her stillness is somewhat alarming. She only moves to turn a page or to blink.

Students sit at various desks scribbling and erasing furiously, sweaty palms pushing into sweaty hairlines. The room is painfully white: white desks, white chairs, white walls. The young woman’s white blouse nearly blends into the cinderblock wall behind her. Even the fluorescent lights seem white, draining all the color from her face. The only noise in the frustratingly quiet room comes from a cheap black clock against the far white wall. It tick tick ticks, holding a metronymic rhythm both aggravating and sleep-inducing.

Her job is menial and meaningless. She administers and collects tests, recording names, dates, and times. Finally, at the end of every day, she pushes in chairs, wipes any stray eraser shavings from the desks, and turns off the lights before she leaves. The routine is repetitious. Students arrive, tests are given, tests are collected. She sits. Waiting. Reading.

The young woman raises her nose from her book and tilts her head on the wall behind her. She shuts her eyes for a moment, taking a reprieve from the blinding white lights. The heavy white door clicked behind him, locking. It was so quiet that the click of the lock seemed to bounce off the pale walls. The sound made the young woman raise her head and open her eyes, pushing her round glasses back into place on her nose with one swift motion.

Then he walks in. The man was slightly older than many of the other students, but that was nothing out of the ordinary. His features were not very distinguishable. He strode into the windowless room with a blank expression.

The heavy white door clicked behind him, locking. It was so quiet that the click of the lock seemed to bounce off the pale walls. The sound made the young woman raise her head and open her eyes, pushing her round glasses back into place on her nose with one swift motion. This struck her as odd. The door did not lock automatically, it had to be done by hand from the  outside. He silently walked up to the desk and stared at the woman.

She asked him quietly,” Do you need to take a test? What’s your name?” Their eyes were locked together. He stared for a long time and her smile slowly vanished. The man’s face showed no expression. Then he slowly raises a gun. The barrel aimed inches from her forehead. His thumb pulled the hammer back and the click of the bullet sliding into place alerted a few of the students currently testing.

One student gasped, another screamed, and soon the students were all chaotically scrabbling to get out of the room. The women and man never moved as the students rushed around them and out the door. The white room lost some color as it filled with emptiness.

A small corner of the man’s mouth curved upwards and his eyes narrowed. The clock shows the time; 2:12pm. The gun shot fired. The man lost his small smirk as the woman remained standing. The woman, with the thick red book, had struck the gun from the man’s hands moments before it fired. It slid across the floor and stopped in front of the heavy door. The white wall behind the woman had one bullet hole, two inches away from her head.

Their eyes remained locked, the woman’s face showed no expression and the man’s frown was now apparent. His right fist flew across the desk in a flash, rushing towards her face, but the women used the book again, striking his fist downwards. A loud crack was heard as the book smacked his hand. His left hand then quickly knocked the book from her grasp. The woman used her knee to overturn her desk directly on top of the man, using all her might to shove the desk, and the man, away from her. He stumbled backwards as the wooden desk and other office supplies fell onto him. After regaining his balance, he shoved the desk into the corner and out of his path. He looked up to see woman foots karate-kick him in the chest. He flew backwards into the white wall, just below the clock. It now said 2:13pm.

The woman turned towards to door, in attempt to flee, but an iron stapler hit her in the back of the head. She falls onto her hands and knees. Trying to regain a clear head, she stares at the floor and watches as small amounts of blood drip onto the white linoleum floors. She tries to rise quickly and becomes very dizzy. Turning back towards the immediate threat, she finds the man hovering over her.

Quicker than she thought possible, the man now has his hands around her throat. His body is angled just above her own. The man’s face that was once unemotional now holds unimaginable rage and ferocity. His eyes pierce into hers as he squeezes the breath from her throat.

As lights dance in her vision, the man pushes her down into the cold linoleum. Her hands claw at the man’s grasp. She feels the forgotten gun dig into the space between her shoulder blades.

The man is laughing now, dementedly. Loud, barking laughs with spit dripping down his chin as he watches her face turn blue. She lies there, motionless, as her vision begins to blacken.  Then her hands fall away, her body goes slack, and her eyes drift off, unfocused. The man doesn’t release his grip, but stares into her eyes with a wide smile.

The gun fires. A gunshot, once again, reverberates off the white walls. The man’s grip goes slack and his body falls forwards on top of the women. A bullet hole smokes from the man’s chest, right where his heart might be if the woman had to guess. She pushes the body away from hers and watches it slump beside her. She then turns her glance to the smoking bullet hole in her own body. Just to the right of her own heart, a bullet hole blooms blood spots onto her white blouse. She sighs and rises to her feet, struggling to breath normally.

The clock shows the time; 2:15pm.

. . .

Eventually, 5:00 pm rolls around and the young woman rises from her desk. Looking down, she adjusts the silver stapler so it lines up perfectly with the rest of the office supplies perched upon her desk. She walks around the windowless room, brushes some eraser shavings off a nearby desk, and turns to leave. Turning off the lights, she sighs. Opening the heavy door, her pristine white blouse seems to be glowing.

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