ETERNALLY DEDICATED by ALF Fagan
Vanna heard someone walking in the hall just outside her office. Casually glancing up from her computer screen she saw Fred pass by the open doorway. She jumped out of her chair, spilling her cup of tea in the process. She covered her mouth to smother a scream. Vanna stood there trembling for several seconds before timidly moving to her doorway and peering down the hall. There she could see that, without a doubt, it was indeed Fred. Her eyes grew wide as he stopped and turned to the entrance of Assistant Manager Thompson Dade’s office. After a brief pause, he entered the office, disappearing from her view. Like a cat, she silently raced from her room down the hallway in the opposite direction.
Fred stood just within the doorway. Thompson was talking with someone on the phone. As soon as he saw Fred, he waved for him to come in. Thompson announced to the person on the other end that he had to go, and hung up the phone. He turned to Fred and said, “Please have a seat.”
Fred sat down in a chair in front of Thompson’s desk and asked, “You wanted to see me?”
Nervously Thompson began to straighten the papers on his desk, then forced a smile. He started speaking quickly. “I haven’t seen you in a while. How have you been?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“That’s good to hear. Look, you have been here for what, thirty years?”
“Yes, thirty two. Are you happy here?”
“Have you ever seen me happy?”
Thompson laughed, then quickly said, “You have been a dedicated employee, and your happiness is important to me.”
Fred looked at him suspiciously, but said nothing.
“Fred, I’m wondering if you like what you do. I don’t want you to feel like you’re trapped in a rut. I’m sure there are lots of things you could do.”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” Fred asked with a hint of anger in his voice.
Thompson’s lower lip began to quiver and his voice became nervous as he replied, “No, of course not.” He paused briefly, then asked, “When was the last time you took a vacation? You have lots of leave accumulated.”
“I hadn’t really thought about it lately. Where would I go?”
“Well, anywhere you want. Isn’t there someplace you’ve always wanted to visit? Perhaps you have family that you haven’t seen in a long time?”
“I’ve got some family in New England that I haven’t seen in about ten years.”
“Well, this is the perfect time of year to visit that part of the country. It’s absolutely gorgeous up there right now.”
“But what about work? Who will cover my job if I take off?”
“Just leave that to me,” Thompson said emphatically. “Just take some time and enjoy yourself. I don’t want you to even think about this place!”
“For how long?”
“For as long as you like.”
“Okay, I guess.”
“Good, then it’s a done deal. You can take off right away. I’ll have everything covered.”
Fred got up from his chair and walked out of the office. After waiting for a moment, Thompson raced out of his chair to the doorway, where he closed the door. He rushed back to his desk and picked up the phone.
“Yes, it’s me again... Yeah, I just spoke with him... Well, he seems to be easily irritated, so I didn’t think it was wise to explain why he needs to move on. I suggested that he take a vacation. Hopefully he’ll realize that it’s time to move on... Yes, I know that his presence has upset several employees, but I’m sure this will work... Of course... Bye.”
Thompson hung up the phone and took a deep breath. He rubbed his temples briefly and then nervously shuffled the papers again on his desk. He sighed and turned to his computer and began typing.
Fred slowly walked down the hall and through a doorway leading to a staircase. Once the door closed behind him, Jan and Vanna stepped out from an office into the hall.
Vanna said, “See, I told you it was him. The others who have seen him lately weren’t imagining it.”
Jan shook her head in disbelief. “Even though I’ve seen it now with my own eyes, I still can’t believe it.”
“I can’t believe it either, but there it is. Why in the world would he come back? Why does he still think he needs to be here?”
Jan’s expression became sombre as she stated, “It’s this place.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on, look at the workaholic environment here. Most of the staff works crazy hours on the regular. Everyone’s so dedicated to their jobs that few have time for a life outside of this place. It’s no surprise that he came back—being here has become an ingrained instinct for him.”
“That’s so sad.”
Jan shook her head and started walking away. Vanna asked, “Where are you going?”
“To look for a new job. I don’t want to be like Fred and spend my afterlife in this place. I want to get out while I can.”