Sitting in the boss's office, I could feel the distaste and disgust in the air as I sat opposite him. He twiddled a pen between his fingers, as it danced between the knuckles of his hand. His disapproval - immeasurable, seemed to stretch across his face as he sat there - with that cold animosity infecting almost every part of his face like a rash of indignation. I could feel his eyes glare into mine like knives, his seething disappointment barely veiled by that cold facade he tried to wear. The boss leaned forward, dropping the pen as he clasped his hands together, staring disdainfully into my soul.
"I warned you about this, Malarie," he said. "I told you, you've got to get your act together, didn't I?"
"By the end of the day, didn't you say?" I replied.
"You have a good memory," the boss replied. "Shame you're not as good at your blooming job."
As I sat there, in the seat, I twiddled my fingers nervously as I hid them in my lap - trying to avoid showcasing my nervousness. This meeting, right here, could determine people's fates down the line: it already determined my own. I knew what I was in here for. The boss had threatened me today, to put my act together or pack my bags, but I wasn't ready to back down and suck up to him for the sake of my life. I'd promised to save everyone that I could, and I wasn't going to give up on that.
"You see, Malarie," the boss began. "I told you earlier, didn't I? That you'd be blackboarded if you didn't lift your game? Well, it looks like you're chasing that spot on the blackboard with a relentless passion, aren't you? Throwing everything away to help some schmuck you've barely met. Are their futures really more important than our wonderful team?"
I wanted to tell him yes, that a team meant nothing if its sole purpose was to ensure the suffering of others, but I didn't say that. At the end of the day, I had to survive this meeting - to get out in one piece and help as many more people as I could.
"You said I had until the end of the day, boss," I replied. "The day's not over yet."
"You're right, no, no it's not," the boss stated. "Of course, if you've got some miracle strategy to lift your performance over the next three hours, then I'm all ears. Until then though, I think it's wisest to operate on the assumption that you're a failure - just like Sadie was."
My ears pricked up at the mention of Sadie, and I felt my anger rise to the surface as the boss invoked her name, slandering all she'd done for others - all she'd done for me. She'd suffered because of this place, same as all of us that were forced through it. His callousness in mentioning her name felt repugnant, a woman who fought hard for others, who had her mind - her self taken and torn to bits in the labyrinth of bureaucracy.
I held back my spite though; I knew that she wouldn't want me to fall apart here, when it meant others might fall with me.
"I understand," I said. "However, I would really appreciate it if you let me try, to make an effort. That's all I'm asking."
"You know what your problem is?" The boss said. "You've had too many chances, Malarie. I keep doling out second chances to you like they're bloody office mints."
Sitting against the rickety office chair, he turned his gaze from my face and typed something into the computer. Belting the keys with the intensity of a charging bull, I caught a glimpse of the absolute rage that he was feeling, as his words - encouraging me to create misery, seemed to persistently fall on deaf ears. I wouldn't let myself feel ashamed of that obstinance though, I said to myself. Nobody should feel ashamed of being stubborn when the alternative is to make suffering.
"Your ratings on the Derrick Rodgers case are a bottomless pit, Malarie," the boss said. "This is one of your worst to date. Nobody wants to engage with this superficial garbage, happy thoughts and all that other stuff. The immortals want to experience things that they can actually feel... that strikes at the depths of their souls."
He leaned forward, and in his face, a darkened element of malice seemed to stretch across it - one that was usually cloaked by that glare of cold disappointment. It was a moment where one was able to see through his veneer, looking into the deep depravity and heinousness veiled beneath it.
"You see, I think you're capable of creating that, Malarie," he continued. "You're not a Vincent, a hit-and-miss guy who has no taste for the depravity of man, no... you've wallowed through the depths of it, haven't you? You've seen it up close. So, tell me, why do you refuse to use that talent? Why should I keep you here if you won't put in one-hundred and ten percent?"
I shifted in my chair, avoiding the gaze of my boss as I thought back to Derrick - the happiness of new possibility, the satisfaction of hearing those words he'd been so desperate to hear. I was putting in one-hundred and ten percent, working every single day to create good lives for good people. I just wouldn't put that effort into making people suffer. Still, I knew that answer wasn't going to cut it in front of the boss.
Staring meekly out the window, and into the swirling colours of the abyssal world beyond the office, the warm glow of the light yonder washed over me. It helped to calm me, staring out into that light. Looking back toward my boss, I reluctantly nodded - as I thought back to the people I helped, and the people I could still help if I manage to keep myself off the blackboard - even if only for a few hours.
"I'll make sure to put in one-hundred and ten percent," I said.
"I don't believe you will, Malarie," the boss replied. "You've got three hours to prove me wrong. Make them count, or I'll make you start counting down the days until your reincarnation."