"Grey walls and the constant hum of the HVAC system coming from the utility room near Stewart’s cubicle were everyday constants. A much quieter hum, that took a very skillful ear, could be heard radiating from the hundreds of fluorescent bulbs that lit the rooms of the office building. Well used and often mismatched office furniture took up space inside each cubicle. A few were “lucky” enough to have a cubicle system of matching drab colored drawers and shelves. This is a typical set up in offices across the country, the world even. Each day hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of workers came in, sat down, and…worked. Each breathing in what was more than likely cancerous air from filthy duct systems. The fluorescent bulbs giving off fake light so that one could see the meaningless papers on their desk, the keyboards they used to write reports, check email, and screw around until it was time to go home. The phone rang sporadically enough to keep the thought of being in a rat maze for eight hours a day at bay. But that thought was always in Stewart’s head. It may swim further back in his brain for a while but as it did laps, it always came back to the forefront.
“Do you want your door shut or open?” a female voice asked from the other side of a cubicle wall. Some incoherent mumble was followed by the sound of the door’s latch hitting the strike plate. Stewart heard this interaction and sound multiple times a day, so many times that you’d think that after a while he wouldn’t even pay attention to it. But every time, he listened for the answer to the question and every time the snap of metal on metal came. Little interactions similar to those happened every single day and yet, Stewart couldn’t ignore them. Not that he was trying to but when he gave it some thought, he wondered why he always took notice. “I’m driving myself mad,” he thought. But that wasn’t the only thing that was driving him mad. There were many other things, most of them trivial, things that shouldn’t bother him but did because that was one of his quirks.
Traffic, or rather, driving was one of the things that bothered him the most. His daily commute wasn’t that bad but there was always at least one other driver that got him riled up. This tended to happen on the drive home when there were more cars on the road, but maybe he wasn’t awake enough to see it on the ride in to the city. A slow moving sedan going under the speed limit, even just one mile an hour under, would be enough to set him off. Especially if there was no way to pass that car due to the traffic in the other lanes. Stewart could never comprehend why people drove so slowly and would often ask aloud in his passenger-less car “why can’t everyone drive just a little bit faster?” Then he’d remember videos he’d seen online that showed what roads with autonomous cars would look like. There’d be no reason for stop signs or stop lights, things just hummed along as vehicles slowed and sped up. Accidents would almost cease to exist. This excited Stewart until he then remembered that he’d be long dead before this ever happened. The right to drive would undoubtedly become a sticking point in getting to that utopian set up. Partisan politics would delay the great idea for decades.
Politics was another thing that bothered Stewart. They are, of course, not trivial like traffic or regular office goings on, but still bothersome all the same. He followed the news, watched the debates, and even voted every time he was able to but he never really cared about politics in general. Perhaps the fact that his one vote for people, who would ultimately do what was in their best interests, made him feel like he didn’t matter. As a registered independent, Stewart rarely voted down a single part line. Despite not thinking his vote really mattered, he’d consider each candidate for each position before casting his ballot. Sometimes as he stood inside the curtained booth, he would look over the list of candidates in each column and consider voting for the most outrageous one, the one who stood no chance of winning but might feel encouraged by any number of votes they did receive. Ultimately, he would end up voting for who he planned on voting for before he arrived at the polling center. “It doesn’t matter who is in office. They’re just there to fuck us over,” he’d often say when asked who he’d voted for.
When it was time for lunch, Stewart would take his lunch box out of the book bag he carried with him daily and then proceed to eat at his desk. He did this every single day. He never went out, never joined anyone in the lunch room, never was a part of a delivery order. They say you’re not supposed to eat at your desk, health reasons and all, but Stewart didn’t mind eating alone. Actually, he minded quite a bit but was too lazy to do anything about it. His packed lunch always consisted or four things: chips, a piece of fruit, a grainy snack item like a granola bar or cheese crackers, and an entrée type food like a sandwich or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Every day, the same thing. Deviating from this system because he either forgot something or was running too late to pack a lunch at all, bothered him more than it should. He was better off showing up late to work or not going in at all because the entire day would be wasted obsessing over the error. A trivial thing, a thing that shouldn’t bother him but did.
As he ate his lunch, today’s entrée was left over chicken parmigiana, people walked by and never stopped. A normal person would think that was because they’d see him eating so they wouldn’t want to bother him, but Stewart knew it was because nobody really knew him, cared about him. “Hi Stewart,” a woman’s voice said as the mouth and body of the person who said it continued down the hall. Stewart didn’t have a chance to finish chewing and swallow before she was surely out of ear shot. It was Mandy. Mandy is a
girl woman who works two cubicle blocks down and three cubicle blocks over on the same floor. She was a couple years younger and started with High Tide Networks about the same time as Stewart but in a different section. She was in human resources, he was in accounting. Their paths rarely crossed but whenever she’d walk by, she’d say hi without stopping. As she walked away, the sound of her greeting others trailed off the closer to her desk she got. The phone rang, breaking Stewart’s concentration of listening to Mandy as she got further and further away, this caused him to drop his fork which promptly tumbled down his white shirt, the sauce on the chicken staining as it rubbed against the fabric. “Shit,” he blurted, trying to both quickly wipe the sauce away and answer the phone at the same time.
“Mr. Davis needs to see you,” a voice said from the other end.
“I’ll be right there,” Stewart replied, hanging up the phone and looking down at his stained shirt. This wasn’t the first and certainly wouldn’t be the last time that he got stains on his clothes while at work. Ever since he had to give a presentation to the sales department with a large ink stain on his chest pocket, Stewart always kept an extra pair of dress clothes in one of his desk drawers. Not wanting to have to bring in an iron too, the shirt was a white polo instead of his standard white button down. Thankfully today was Friday so most of the office was already dressed more casually, not that anyone would notice or even care that he changed."