Flash fiction by Tina Konstant
Charlie Wince taps his keyboard. Not typing anything, just tapping. Thinking. Watching. From where he sits, he can see right into his boss’s office. Or normally he can. Today, the door’s shut, the blinds drawn.
Something’s happening. Something that’s going to hit him right in the face when he least expects it. They’re whispering about it in the shadows. He can feel it. Three other people in his office pod. All working away like they don’t know. They know. They’re all keeping secrets.
Charlie Wince hates secrets.
His parents’ divorce when he was seven? A secret. They’d been planning it for months, but no one told him. No one told him anything until the day his father just walked out. His grandmother? The women he loved most in the world? They’d kept their secret for a year. A year! Then they surprised him. Boo! Granny’s dead. They said they didn’t tell me earlier because I was too young. Too young? Not too young to be lied to.
People and their secrets. They keep them close then slink off behind closed doors to laugh and watch him cry.
Not this time. No more. No more secrets. No more closed doors. No more last minute news when it’s too late to do anything. He could have stopped his father if he’d known he was going to leave. He could have said good-bye to his Gran if he’d known she was dying. He could have gone with his brother if he’d been told about the trip to the mountains. He’d have had different conversations with his wife if he’d known she was having an affair.
How can he fix things if people keep secrets?!
He taps his keyboard and watches. His boss and two other people he’s not seen before are in that office, talking. They’ve been there since 8 a.m. Charlie glances at his watch. 2.48 p.m. Getting late. Waiting until the last minute. That’s what they’re doing. It’s no secret the company’s cutting back. That at least, they’ve been honest about. How they’re going to do it? When they’re doing it? That’s a secret!
People in dark suits sneak around the building discussing peoples’ lives in corners. Conversations about him. Charlie breathes deep. Ragged air catches in his throat. Shaking. Lord, he’s shaking. Fury? That’s it. He doesn’t do fear anymore. No. Last time he let that tear through him, his only child left with his wife who left with her secret lover. No more fear.
Rage, yes. Fury, yes. Fear. Never again. Something wet drips on his desk. Sweat. In autumn? What do they want? Why don’t they just tell him the truth? Why sneak and hide?
Just like when his brother died. Exactly the same closed doors and whispering. Glances in his direction, then backs turned.
The fall on the mountain had left him with half his bones broken. One day he was at his brother’s bedside, begging him to live, then three days later, he was told his only and best friend was dead. Three days! It took them three days of scheming and whispering.
Charlie rubs his chest. Numb and cold. Why can’t he feel his hands?
Not this time. They aren’t getting him this time. He’ll act first. He’ll make the first move. He’ll be the one in control. For the first time in his life, he’ll be the one to open the blinds, let the light in and tell the truth.
Who do they think they are? He won’t be the last to know. If he’s losing his job, it will be his idea. HIS IDEA!
The door to his boss’s office opens and the two men in suits walk out. One of them looks at Charlie, then they disappear down the corridor. Charlie pauses and squeezes his eyes shut. Breathe. Breathe. Christ, air. His hands. He can’t see them.
The voice is far away. Almost the tail-end of an echo. His boss?
“I quit!” That’s what Charlie wants to scream, but the echo takes his words away and turns them into mist. “I leave you! You don’t get to decide!”
“Charlie, an ambulance is coming. Just relax, okay?”
Three short begging breaths. That’s all it took.
“I leave you,” Charlie thought before his world went black. “You don’t get to leave me.”
With the ambulance gone and shock seeping into the walls around Charlie’s desk, his boss drops a letter onto his keyboard.
“What’s that?” a colleague asks, tears dripping down her face.
Charlie’s boss shakes his head. “His promotion. A pay rise. It’s taken ages to sort.”
The woman who sat next to him for eight years, who worked with him, talked to him, shared tea breaks, lunch breaks and gossip with him, and secretly loved him, let tears fall without trying to stop them. “What the hell happened to Charlie?”