I tried my hand at flash fiction last year. A few friends provided writing prompts for me. The prompt for this one was the title, Chester in Accounting. I decided to read it at a prose open mic, so I opened it up and did some editing today.
Chester in accounting was having a bad day. As much as he hated to say it, the sum of the parts was not what he wanted it to be. He was a numbers guy and the numbers weren’t working right now. He was also a statistics guy and the probability was not in his favor. He rarely, if ever, thought of his life in accounting or mathematical terms, but today was turning out to be an exception.
The company was reorganizing, which meant he was being reorganized and downsized out of a job. They could only keep a finite number of accountants and he didn’t make the cut. Otis (what kind of name is that!) in the next cubicle when they used to actually work in the office, made the cut. But not Chester. Otis texted Chester at around 8 am to say he’d heard a rumor and to wish Chester well.
Yesterday, Chester had a check-in meeting with his boss scheduled for late afternoon. Nothing unusual about that. They checked in once a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. And then his boss cancelled the meeting and rescheduled it for first thing in the morning, today. Nothing unusual about that either. The only unusual thing was that text from Otis the idiot, which Chester hadn’t responded to.
Chester jumped on the morning call - they were still working remotely even though many businesses were back to in person as the pandemic got under control - at 8:55 am, five minutes early. The first thing he noticed was the witch from HR was on. His boss showed up right at 9, after five awkward minutes which involved a little small talk and a lot of stomach churning for Chester. “Damn," he though, "Otis was right! Who does that guy know?”
Willow the witch - yes the HR person really was named Willow even though there was nothing about her that reminded Chester of the weeping willow tree he had in his back yard as a kid. Man, he loved to climb that tree as high as he could go. The upper limbs would bend as the wind blew and Chester loved the feeling of swaying just him and the tree dancing in the wind. Willow greeted Chester’s boss and Chester’s boss said hello and suggested they get started as Chester said hello. She talked about the reorg (Chester pretended he was surprised), shifting priorities, combining departments, the need to delete redundant and unnecessary positions. “Which was he”, Chester wondered, “redundant or unnecessary, or both? Could this get any more painful? He was in accounting. He knew the drill."
Willow took over and talked about a severance package with salary and health insurance going through the end of the month, it was only the third so that was good news. Chester half listened to Willow. He was thinking, maybe he had time to squeeze in the dentist and a couple of other appointments if they got a cancellation. He should try to get his meds refilled before the end of the month too. Would his doctor call in the prescriptions if he didn’t need them yet? It was worth a try. He needed his meds. He also needed to research a damn COBRA, apply for unemployment, and start thinking about what he wanted to do.
Willow moved on to discussing the paperwork. They could email him the severance forms this afternoon and mail him copies of the signed paperwork. What email address should they send everything to? “We’ll also email the links for unemployment and COBRA,” she added.
As Willow finished talking, his boss sipped her coffee (a paper Starbucks cup so probably a drink he wouldn’t be able to afford, not that he ever drank that overpriced stuff) and she she spoke again. Exactly what he expected her to say. They’re sorry to lose him. He was a good employee. He was a valued member of the team. These things happen. You know corporate. Sometimes things are out of our hands. He wished she would just tell the truth. She had to let two people go and he was one of them. Sorry but not sorry. Good luck. And, of course, she delivered the final kicker, she’d be happy to provide a strong reference letter. He thought, “No, I don’t want your letter, I want my job here, even though you’re a lousy boss. I was going to retire within the next five years. Maybe less than five if the market does well.” He heard her say something about “accounting won’t be the same without you, Chester.” “Well, duh, he thought, that’s because I won’t be there so you’ll have to rely on Otis the idiot or whoever you have do my job. There’s no way he can figure out some of this stuff without cheat sheets. I have some, but they’re on my personal external drive because I’ve been working from home. And no I’m not going to mention my external drive because it’s mine. They can have their laptop back. That thing sucked anyway, which is why I needed the external drive. Boss lady and Otis and my co-workers who will miss me have no idea how slow and crappy that laptop is, but they’ll soon find out. Maybe. Everyone will be back in the office within two months.
Willow the HR witch took over again. “We need to arrange for you to return your laptop. Maybe you can drop it off and pick up signed copies of the paperwork tomorrow, Wednesday morning?”
Chester finally spoke. “Oh, yeah, right, it’s Tuesday morning, I guess I can read your email and e-sign everything tonight. Or better yet, why can’t you just print it and I’ll sign it when I come in?”
“Oh, we wouldn’t want to take that much of your time. You can leave the laptop with security and they can walk you to your office if you need to get anything personal that you left there when we shut down for the pandemic. No need to stop by HR.”
“Wow,” Chester thought, “the proverbial foot kicking you out the door. They don’t want me anywhere near them. Maybe they think that besides being redundant and unnecessary, I’m contagious.”
“I really don’t mind coming in to sign the forms. That way, if I have a question, well, you know.”
Willow cleared her throat. His boss cleared her throat. Chester thought they were trying to look at each other and decide who should speak.
His boss decided to put on her manager hat and speak up. “Well, actually Chester, as much as we’d like to see you, today is our last day and we won’t be here tomorrow. Middle management and HR took a hit too.”
And with that, Chester from Accounting finally smiled. “Sorry to hear that.” And thought to himself, “best balance sheet ever.” He loved it when things added up just right. No need for notes. Just a clean balance sheet where the final numbers matched. That was Chester’s happy place. He truly loved it when the numbers told the story and he didn’t need to explain a thing. It might be his last day but it was also his best day. As he said, “Ok, bye then, I’ll watch for that email,” he thought, “Chester in Accounting wishing you well (not) and signing off. Maybe this day isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”