(c)2009Sayword B. Eller
A Corporate Christmas
Timmy sees the hummer pull up outside of his store and his heart starts to pound. Now is the time that he will be able to show his wife the move was for the best, that he hadn’t screwed up when he’d switched companies. That red hummer and the man inside held the news that would save his marriage, his Christmas, and his life.
The door of the vehicle opens and a brown leather shoe drops out. Timmy moves closer to the double glass doors that would soon open and bring with them the best news in all the world. He wants to get out his cell phone and call his wife, to have her on the other end when the news that would relieve all of her stresses is delivered. His hand is in his pocket, sweating fingers closing around the small phone she had purchased for him just a month before.
His fingers itched to do it, but the door is open before he gets up just enough nerve, and the man that can make or break him is maneuvering his rounding body inside.
“Good morning, EB,” Timmy says with a smile. “I hope you had a great weekend!”
He knew he sounded too cheerful, like he was expecting something, but it was too hard to suppress it.
“It was good enough, Tim,” he answered.
EB is almost ten years Timmy’s senior. His hair is thinning at the top, a fact he tries to hide by keeping it extremely short. His hummer had been a gift to himself after receiving the big promotion to Regional Manager, and his wife had received a Mercedes. It was a position Timmy would never hold, being told in no uncertain terms not long after being hired. No degree no big money, that was the policy here at Hank’s Rentals.
It wasn’t bad though, making forty thousand a year was better than what he had been making just a year before. Besides, whoever said a degree makes a reliable employee hadn’t met his neighbor next door.
For an hour he followed EB around his store, watching with pride and a little trepidation as he inspected the floor, the back room, inventory and the other many things. Like a hound after a fox he turned over everything. It was a game that Timmy normally didn’t mind playing. Corporate comes into the store to find what you’re not doing right completely ignoring what you are doing right, ultimately docking you the very points that you need to get quarterly bonuses for both you and your staff. Timmy felt sure they wouldn’t find any today. This was the closest to perfection they would ever see. All he needed was for this balding round man to finish nit picking and tell him he was getting that bonus.
Inside he screamed.
This man held the answer to how good a Christmas his children would have.
Would they be able to get some new clothes? New shoes? Would he be able to buy his wife that diamond ring he had been eyeing for months? Would they be able to catch up on those big bills that seemed to be pulling them under?
He moved his hand along the legs of his slacks, trying to wipe away the sweat that seemed to be pouring out like a summer rainstorm.
When had he become someone who sweated?
It must have been after his recent conversations with Alma. She was depressed and stressed. The holiday season was always like that for the two of them, the pressure to be able to provide your children and family with mountains of presents, or at least the newest and most trendy objects.
“Let’s have a look at the books then, shall we,” EB said, trying desperately to stand back up.
It was another grueling hour of EB painstakingly going over the books to make sure the numbers were growing and there was no misappropriation of funds. It was a task Timmy had done just that morning when he had arrived over an hour early for work.
It was unnecessary and annoying for him to want to look over the numbers, especially when they were sent straight to EB’s email every day. If he had wanted to go over them that was something he could have done before showing up.
Unable to stand the torture he excused himself, stepping into the bathroom. Pulling the phone from his pocket he dialed his wife’s number. She would be at work now, but wouldn’t have a problem picking up. She always answered.
“Hello,” she said after two rings.
“What’s wrong? You sound upset.”
It was comforting that she knew.
“EB is here.”
“Yeah, he’s been here since ten o’clock. He’s going through everything.”
His wife was silent.
“I can’t stand it.”
“Has he told you about the bonus yet?”
He cringed at the mention of the word. Why couldn’t she just talk him down? Why did it always have to lead back to money for her? Suddenly he was angry.
“No,” he snapped.
She was silent again.
“Look, I’m sorry I don’t make enough money for you.” It wasn’t something he intended to say, but it was the only thing he could think to say. His anger was blinding him, as usual.
“Look,” she quipped, her voice low and tight. “Don’t call and take it out on me because he’s giving you problems. If you want to know what is going on with the bonus just ask.”
He considered her words for a moment and knew she was right. He nodded.
“I was nodding.”
“I can’t hear a nod, Timmy,” she said and he could hear in her tone she was already forgiving him. “Go talk to him. If you need to talk after that, call me back.”
“Okay. I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“I love you,” she said, and then she was gone.
He slid the phone back into his pocket and washed his hands.
As he walked toward the office he shared with his two managers he could see EB working over the numbers. He rubbed his hands on his slacks again.
“Ah, Tim, I was just looking for you.”
Timmy walked into the office and took a seat beside the desk. It was supposed to appear to be oak, but after almost seven months of usage it was falling apart at the seams; a chip here, a crack there.
“What’s up, EB?” he asked, his hands following that now-familiar trail down his legs.
“Your numbers are slipping.”
“It’s bound to pick back up soon, EB. Christmas is right around the corner.”
Speaking of Christmas, his mind said, but his mouth stayed closed.
“Are you field visiting?”
“What about your nons?”
“We’re still in the top four, EB.”
“The top four? You were in the top two. I’m concerned about these numbers.”
Timmy felt it then, that bad feeling snaking its way from the pit of his stomach up through his esophagus, like a meal that’s gone down the wrong way. It stopped just at the back of his throat, resting there in a big ball.
He waited for EB to finish. Waiting was the hardest thing in the world to manage. Everything that had once been right with his store was now being examined and reexamined and his managerial skills were being questioned, and for what?
The number game was over in an hour. Now it was after three and EB was on his way out the door. Every hope that Timmy had held at seeing that red hummer pull into the lot, had dimmed like a light too far off in a fog.
He walked to the front of the store, his stomach rolling.
“Speaking of Christmas, EB,” Timmy said, just as his regional’s hand was on the bar of the door. “When do we get our bonuses?”
There was a pause that seemed to last an eternity and then EB turned around with that look on his face. It’s not a look that can be explained, but it is a look that a manager knows all too well. It was the look that shattered any last glimmer of hope.
“New managers don’t typically bonus,” he said.
“That’s not what you told me a year ago when I left my other job for this one. That’s not what you told me when I moved to this store in May. What has changed since then?”
“To tell you the truth,” He paused, as if any time to get it straight in his mind could make the blow any less substantial. “Your numbers aren’t what they should be. You should have had more growth than you have. Based on the numbers you don’t qualify for a bonus anyway.”
Timmy leaned against the new leather sofa they had unpacked and put on the floor especially for the holiday season. It was getting hard to stand. Hard to breathe. He heard his wife’s voice in his head, her disappointment. He heard her cry and saw the Christmas tree, how empty it was going to be.
“But you told me I would get at least nineteen hundred,” he said a little winded.
“I don’t know what to tell you, Tim. That’s just the way it goes.” With that he shrugged and made his way out to that red hummer that would carry him back to his grand office and financially stable life.
Everything faded away at that very moment. He saw the plans they had for catching up float away, as if caught in some phantom draft, and saw the looks on the faces of his wife and children as they opened yet another set of sparse Christmas gifts.
Before they could see it, his other managers and receptionist, he stood and walked quickly to the bathroom in the back of his store. Once inside, with the door locked, he slid to the floor and sobbed.
For once he had allowed himself to believe that everything would be better. He had allowed his mind to rest easy in the knowledge that this year it really would be different. And for what?
He took his phone out of his pocket and dialed the number for the only other person in his world that would understand.
“Hey,” she said when she answered.
“You’re not getting it, are you?”
“No.” He was unable to hide the sob that followed. “No, I screwed up again.”
“No, you didn’t.” She paused and he knew it was because she was trying not to cry. “You tried to do what was best.”
“I wanted this so much. I wanted to believe them so much.”
“I know, honey, I know.”
“I just wanted to be able to give you guys a great Christmas for once.”
“We’ll be together, that is Christmas enough for me.”
“It’s just not enough this year.” The sobs moved his body back and forth. “I wanted to give you guys so much.”
“Timmy, listen to me,” she said, her voice soft. “It could be worse,” she continued. “We have each other. Yes, it sucks that we aren’t going to have a great Christmas this year. Yes, it sucks that we are going to have to see others flaunt their money again this year when we’re not sure if we can even pay the house note, but we will get through it, we always do.”
“Are you there?”
“Yes, I was nodding.”
“Look, we didn’t really expect that bonus anyway, right? We’re not the kind of people who get huge bonuses.”
“But the kids are gonna be so disappointed.”
“The children will be fine. As long as we’re together everything will be fine. We will get what we can.”
“Why did they say I would get it if I wouldn’t?” He heard her sigh and wished he could just let it go.
“Because you, my dear, are in the corporate world. They couldn’t care less that you can’t pay your bills and that their promises are what lured you away from a job that did. All they care about is the bottom line. Now, get over it. We are going to make it. Those fat cats can take their faux bonuses and choke on them.”
He couldn’t stifle the laugh that erupted through his subsiding sobs.
“We’re going to make it, you got that?”
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He slid his phone back in his pocket and laid his head against the wall. It was a moment that should have been so happy. This day should have been the day he could prove to his wife that his changing jobs and taking a six-month pay cut had been a good decision. Instead it showed that his six months at customer service rep pay before being bumped up to manager was likely to cost them everything. Turning on the tap he splashed cold water onto his flushed face.
There was a knock on the metal door that shielded him from the prying eyes of his employees.
“Boss, you okay?”
He pasted a smile on his face, though sure it was not at all believable, and opened the door. There stood his twenty-year-old sales manager, Jeff, but all Timmy could see was his very pregnant girlfriend sitting at home waiting for the very same news his wife had been awaiting. “I’m great.”
“What’d the big dog say?”
“Just that we suck so there are no bonuses.”
He looked as stunned as Timmy felt. “What am I going to do, man?”
“The same thing the rest of us have to do,” Timmy said, giving the boy a slap on the back. “Survive.”