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Short Story 38

There's The Door



The hand sanitizer was actually clear glue or at least so it appeared. No one seemed to notice or care, even when their hands were fixed in place against each other they just walked looking unnaturally pleased with everything. It was a wonder that this wasn’t a problem. It could be that the glue gradually gave up its natural desire to hold things tightly together. Or it could have been that this particular set of office workers got as much done with their hands moving as they did when they were stuck to each other.


There was a singular employee, a young woman named Pauleen, that avoided this beautiful hand pump admired by the entirety of the office. When she entered and ran her card over the censor she simply walked past it. This of course drew the attention of many people around her, their heads moving in unison and many of their hands still pleasantly shifting the glue that tethered their palms one to the other or soon would.


Near the elevator she prodded the up symbol with a single finger standing back as the crowd of employees gathered behind her. This rather austere form of movement produced somewhat scornful looks from her fellow workers who in turn diverted their eyes in disgust. When the elevator arrived and they were all obliged to enter Pauleen maneuvered her way to the glowing panel of numbers. It was a surprise to her how few people followed in after her. In fact, she was quite alone within the confines of the five-by-five space.


“Is no one getting on?” Her voice like an empty din fell at their feet bouncing off the walls of the tiny room she inhabited all by herself.


The answer came in resounding, suffocating silence. Giving in she pressed the button to her floor. The doors in their own hesitance waited a moment more. She didn’t rush them to close, imagining someone might change their mind, alas no one did and the doors shuttered and slid into place pitifully.


A jerking sensation pulled at her stomach as the elevator ascended. The golden number shone bright amongst the others standing out as vibrantly as the woman who had pressed it. When she arrived at her floor the doors opened allowing her to step into a low pile gray carpet that covered the entirety of the floor. Outside of the alcove, created as a kind of entry way, the floor was interlaced in separated desks designed to remove the closed in nature of the average cubicle office building. There were colored lights hanging as opened mouthed orbs here and there. The glossy white desks bounced light. The seats as varied in color as everything else. Several of the desks had personal items, small toys that represented the worker, family pictures, etcetera. She went to her own desk so dutifully endowed with small articles of personality.


Three minutes later the room began to fill. The herds of persons who had not wished to enter the elevator with her now took their seats around her, additional ornaments to the office’s general appeal. Their hands were bound together in rather fantastic ways and strangely as they pulled apart to do their work there were tiny threads, like old tacky saliva, binding their palms and fingers together even when they were forced to be at a distance convulsing and trembling as they moved.


Pauleen tried to ignore the tension emanating from her surrounding crowd of colleagues, logging onto her computer. The screen flashed bright and luminous, this was, of course, as normal. The glaring emblem of a white envelope in the center of the screen was new, there were also red letters written on top that stated, ‘Open at Once.’ This she did without hesitation. An email consumed the whole screen and in red letters began as follows:


Ms. McNeil,


It has come to our attention that you have been avoiding the sanitation pump which is available to all employees at the front of the building. It is requested that you at once go and seek said pump and pump it. Preferably and absolutely on your hands, as soon as is most convenient, which should be at the close of this email. Thank you for your respectful submission to requested hygiene standards.


Yours Sincerely,


Upper Management


The letter was read and then reread. Somehow the value of the request evaded her. She glanced at her fellow workers, their sticky hands leaving oozing blobs on every key they pressed and tiny spiderweb like strings with no lack of dew on every object they touched while still leading it back to their own finger. This she had deduced had only begun with the implementation of the so called ‘sanitation pump’ located at the front of the office building just before the check in gate.


The sight of this. The idea of the texture. The very thought that this stuff, whatever it was, would also be connected to her hands and subsequently everything else she touched was a positively unbearable thought. She couldn’t and wouldn’t allow it and so very quickly she replied as follows:


Upper Management,


I have duly considered your request and respectfully decline your offer of use of said sanitation pump. I do and have always brought my own disinfectant which I use liberally at my own discretion. As it has been several months with the pumps and as I have caused no problems whether to my work or coworkers with my abstinence I shall continue par for the course. I thank you so much for your expression of concern, but again I state I must abstain.


Sincerely,


Pauleen McNeal


This sent Pauleen at once opened the company server and put on her headset prepared to handle the necessary sales calls which were delegated to her. With the list before her and a notepad beside her with adequate writing implement, she always found that taking notes by hand was easiest. She was prepared to take the plunge when yet another very important envelope popped onto the screen obscuring her view. It refused to remove itself and no matter what she seemed to do it remained plastered on the screen and the only that she was capable of interacting with. Clicking it the following email poured out before her:


Ms. McNeal,


We understand your hesitance, many people at first questioned the steps we are now ALL forced to take. Upper Management, without a doubt, did due diligence and looked into the recommended sanitation pumps thoroughly. You can trust that they are of the highest level of safety and that there is no way any store procured sanitation serum can be as effective as that to which we offer. We ask you to please go downstairs and utilize the hand pump which contains the proper level of necessary sanitation. We thank you for your cooperation and understanding about the importance of your submitting to this request.


Respectfully,


Upper Management


Pauleen frowned. It was a natural emotion, one that suited her brows as much as most others. The logic didn’t seem to make any sense. She took a breath glancing around for a moment trying to decide how she would proceed. Whether or not she should just submit to the request. It was at this precise moment that Janice, the woman who sat across from Pauleen, looked up at her after just finishing rubbing her eye. It was puffy with what could only be described as hand snot tendrils dripping from the flesh, embedded in her eyebrow and lashes.


Pauleen’s fingers nearly moved without her consent:


Upper Management,


Again, I have considered what you have requested and again I must decline. I believe that I am the one who should perceive whether or not this is an appropriate step for me and I absolutely refuse to do so. Please do not push the point.


Yours,


Pauleen McNeal


There was no break between the sending of this and its reply. She was almost aghast at how abruptly it appeared, as though they had anticipated she would say such a thing.


Ms. McNeal,


It is requested once again that you go down at once and use the pump sanitation device and thoroughly massage the necessary product into the pores of your hand. If you continue to refuse it means you do not and will not consider the wellbeing of your coworkers, at which point you will leave us no other recourse than to ask you to at once gather your things and leave the building. If you choose this route, please leave your name badge at the front desk.


Respectfully,


Upper Management


Pauleen also left no time between reading and writing back:


Upper Management,


It is stated within the employee guidelines that we are permitted to abstain if we can provide a health note, I will obtain one from my provider and deliver it to my floor manager.


Yours,


Pauleen McNeal


Again, the envelope returned as if at the tip of a well-practiced whip.


Ms. McNeal,


Even if you could provide such necessary documentation, which we highly doubt, it is no longer within the guidelines that such things are permitted. Either submit or leave the premises at once.


Hugs and Kisses,


Upper Management


With jaw slack with shock she reread this last email several times. She had worked at this company for over five years. She was a good employee. She always did what they asked up to this point. Why was this such a deal breaker? Finding it difficult to wrap her mind around, she tried one last attempt.


Upper Management,


You can’t be serious. I have rights and a family to feed. I have served the company with loyalty. Surely there is something that can be done that will allow me to continue on while also being able to abstain from a frankly unsupportable treatment. I beg you reconsider.


Yours,


Pauleen McNeal


And there it was. Their last reply. She hesitated. Her fingers felt clammy. She couldn’t imagine how this had happened. Why they would be doing this to her. Most everyone in the office was doing as they asked. Shouldn’t that be enough? Why must she too?


Ms. McNeal,


We respect and thank you for your years of faithful service. In saying this, if you refuse to do as we request then our thanks is all you get and you can find the door. We imagine you are capable of doing that on your own, but we would be happy to permit you escorts if you refuse.


Bon Voyage,


Upper Management


P.S. Please vacate your desk within the hour if you still refuse to comply.


That was that. It was out there now. There was nothing that she could do. They had made the decision for her. Slowly, very slowly she stood. A floor manager came to her as if on cue having waited in the wings to present her with a box clad in cream with pink ribbon wrapped all around. This was going to be the last resting place of her career. Unconscious, she removed the headset she had forgotten to take off before standing and began to gather her few personal things. A round rabbit doll weighed at the bottom. A string of lights that was around the screen of her computer, glittering with multicolored LED bulbs, she turned off. A picture frame with her mother and father. Another with her cat and her husband. There were also a few notepads with printed kitty paws, leaves, and little scenes. A few special pens with sections that had moving glitter and tiny objects. Her notepad, a cup of well sharpened pencils, and lastly a paper weight shaped like a pug with wings. They were all put in the box, all of them, and all while the floor manager watched with a smile as sticky as his hands.


Heavy sighs trailed after her as she went to the elevators. The ride down seemed gloomy and slow compared with the one up. It was surreal. Like a dream. Rather a nightmare.


At the bottom she stepped out going for the small fiberglass gates similar to those at a subway stations. It was time to clock out. To say goodbye forever. They made it appear as if she had a choice. But there was only the pump or the exit. The pump or the exit.


Stepping through the barricade she took off her name badge holding it. Staring at it. All she had to do to keep her job was to use the pump. It was a good paying job. They lived so nicely off it. They were trying for a baby. She was supposed to keep her job until they succeeded at least. That way they could afford a down payment on a house. They would be able to get out of the city, to be more free. Her husband freelanced, sometimes jobs were sparse. If she lost her job then what? All she had to do was press the pump. That was it. Just that. It tempted her there so near. It would only take a moment. Just one moment and she would be fine.


Going to the front desk, Pauleen placed her name badge down in front of the sticky handed receptionist, before turning and walking toward the door. She wouldn’t look back. She couldn’t. With long faltering strides she said goodbye to everything she had worked so hard for, letting the door swing shut behind her.



End



Thank you so much for reading everyone!!



Prompt Sentence: The hand sanitizer was actually clear glue


Word Count: 2252


©DecemberKnight 2023


Special thanks to Library of Congress from Unsplash for the use of the image!


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