Sitting at his keyboard, Caulfield could not see around the soft, gray walls of his cubicle. But when he rolled back and turned to his left, he could see across the aisle into Johnson’s. He could see Johnson’s shoulder, the arc of Johnson’s back, the chair under Johnson’s ass.
He could also see out the other side of Johnson’s cubicle into Chalmers’ office. He could see a portion of Chalmers’ desk, but not Chalmers himself unless Chalmers himself leaned into view. Chalmers was not the kind of man to lean into view too much.
His glasses bobbing on his knuckles, Caulfield rubbed his eyeballs. He rolled back, turned to his left, and whispered Johnson.
Johnson didn’t move.
Caulfield whispered again, hey Johnson!
Caulfield blinked, scratched his ear, and rolled back up to his keyboard. He puffed out his cheeks and motorboated his lips. Air escaped his soul, then dissipated, contributing to the aroma by which others had begun to identify his presence in the office.
He grabbed an unsharpened pencil and waggled it. He flicked the eraser end against his cheek and whistled. This made a sound like a drip of water. A trick he’d been doing since he was a thin-fingered high school kid. He was now fat-fingered and forty.
Caulfield rolled back a couple of feet and shout-whispered Johnson!
Johnson, in his regular drone, called over his shoulder what?
“This is bullshit.”
“Why are you whispering?” said Johnson.
Caulfield said shhh! then, “In case’a Chalmers…” He didn’t finish. He felt that should be enough.
A sigh emanated from Johnson’s cubicle. Johnson’s chair squeaked as it leaned back far enough for Johnson himself to make an appearance. Johnson glanced at Caulfield, blinked, and said, “Okay, Caulfield. What’s bullshit?”
“This,” said Caulfield, waving his arm. His shirt sleeves were too short, so he’d begun rolling them over his elbows. “That which we do.”
Johnson was the younger of the two. His shirt sleeves were well-pressed, all the way down to his wrists. He had more hair, less belly, and nothing to say. He listened carefully as Caulfield said, “Nobody needs this stuff,” then scratched his cheek and leaned forward again, out of Caulfield’s sight.
“For chrissakes, Caulfield!”
“We’re drumming up feelings of need in people for things they don’t need. Are you listening?”
Throughout the office, fingers clacked on keyboards.
“Johnson, are you listening?”
“People want those things,” said Johnson.
“But they shouldn’t! That’s what I’m trying… goddammit! Johnson!”
Johnson kicked himself backwards and spun towards Caulfield. WHAT? he said, a bit too loudly.
Chalmers leaned into view behind Johnson. Johnson did not need to turn around to know this. He felt it. He felt Chalmers’ eyes bouncing between the back of his head and the front of Caulfield’s face. He felt Chalmers cock one eyebrow. He felt Chalmers slowly, gradually, lean back out of sight.
With Chalmers gone, Johnson slumped. Almost imperceptibly. Only the most astute observers would even have noticed. And as he scooted his chair back towards his desk, he reached for something out of Caulfield’s sight.
A moment later, Caulfield’s phone rang. Caulfield picked up. It was Johnson.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, Caulfield?”
“They don’t need them,” said Caulfield into the phone.
“What do I care?”
“You don’t need them either.”
“Caulfield, what I need is your copy on my desk by three. For you to shut up and do that is what I need.”
“What if I don’t?”
“What about him? So what?
Caulfield stood up, phone in hand, and began to gesture wildly. “It wouldn’t go to print, the catalogue. The stupid precious catalogue.” He plopped his armpits atop the wall of the cubicle and hung one mammoth appendage over. The other held the phone to his ear. His girth caused the wall to bend precariously. Structural failure seemed imminent. “Hence, no one would feel like they needed this ridiculous stuff. Like the fuckin’ Yoda flash drive on page 38. ‘Elegant, with a touch of adventure.’ Who wrote that? We’re not curing cancer, Johnson. We’re making people think they need crap they don’t need. You think this bullshit crap makes people happy?”
“If we stop making people think they need to spend their money on garbage they don’t need… just imagine!”
“Sales would suffer.”
Caulfield blinked, wrinkled his brow. “What?”
Sales would be impacted,” said Johnson.
“So what, Johnson? I’m impacted right now, in my ass. So what if sales are impacted? Sales have to grow? Why can’t sales just coast? Who says sales have to grow? Who says that?”
“There’s more people every year, Caulfield.”
“Johnson, what are you talking about?”
“More people means more sales.”
“I’m talking about false need driven by corporate greed, Johnson. What if we stopped creating that need? Wouldn’t that liberate the hell out of you? Wouldn’t you like to be liberated from artificial need for bullshit no one needs? Imagine a world where consuming needless bullshit wasn’t your reason for living.”
“It’s not my reason for living, Caulfield. No one buys this bullshit, no one works. Shit gets made so shit gets sold, so more shit gets made, so people have jobs. You an idiot? We stop telling people to buy stuff, everything goes to hell. This is big, Caulfield. This is bigger than you. Bigger than cancer. Don’t you see? We’re heroes, you and me. Goddamn heroes.”
Johnson rolled back to where Caulfield could see him again. Caulfield’s wall was bowing under Caulfield’s armpits. Both men had phones to their ears.
“Three o’clock, Caulfield,” said Johnson. “Be a hero.”
Caulfield let the phone drop from his ear and hang over the wall.
Johnson rolled forward again, out of Caulfield’s sight.
Fingers clacked against keyboards. Caulfield adjusted his weight, allowing more of his soul to escape. This time through the seat of his pants.
featured image: kissesandchaos.com