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Today's Story by Jon Mcgill

Mr. Petersson sweeps in like the grim reaper, lops the heads off a few departments, jets back to Schaumburg for a promotion.

Future Perfect

In one of these executive conference rooms is where it will happen. You and a small group of co-workers, huddled around the midsection of a polished mahogany table. You guys will be, in a sense, the leftovers—the lucky ones who inadvertently scored a final worry-free weekend while, last Friday, the rest of the department had theirs ruined. Seated across from you will be Ed and Shay, that office anomaly—co-workers and (still) happily married, a Rockwell painting in the flesh—and at your right, the very opposite of this ideal American happiness, slouched in her chair like a nervous slug, will be Tina English, who you secretly loathe due to her inability to communicate tactfully, without a confrontational sneer in her voice. And in charge of this impromptu gathering will of course be Mr. Greg Petersson, regional manager. Together you’ll navigate PowerPoint slides, trying the best you can to grasp the underlying message, to understand what hides in the turgid language, the pie charts, the bullet points, the graphs more closely resembling the panicked ECGs of somebody in ventricular fibrillation. Ed and Shay will cling to each other as if cold, lost at sea, survivors of a shipwreck; Tina English, whose continued existence baffles you, will fire a volley of questions at Greg as if he were not just director of Fremont operations but CEO and therefore personally culpable; and you will direct your attention to the window just beyond, the promising daylight there, wanting to die and imagining the most socially resonant way in which this happens.

The day will have begun pleasantly, too. At the gym a personal best at squats. A sidelong glance from one of the treadmill hotties. A hearty, healthy breakfast. Then, while idle at a red light, having an opportunity to admire the grandeur of life in the form of blackbirds—hundreds of them—darkening the sky over the corner gas station like a constantly shattering shadow. You’ll feel inspired and haphazardly, while driving, scribble the day’s haiku on the back of an old McDonald’s receipt, afterward feeling proud, sated—in a larger, cosmic sense.

That night while lying in bed precariously on the edge of sleep you’ll wonder if this had been part of the plan: Mr. Petersson sweeps in like the grim reaper, lops the heads off a few departments, jets back to Schaumburg for a promotion. You’ll lose control, get a head full of conspiracies. And before dreams usher you to places incoherent and lawless you’ll think once more of dying, of that courage to social resonance ratio, and entertain thoughts of your company, CSSolutions, overtaken but not, as the Power Point said, by VNUS or the Greg Peterssons of the world, but by Smith & Wesson, you as the facilitator of this merger.

But it will only be a dream. And by the next day not even a dream but an echo, a wish unfulfilled, a garbled transmission from the other side of your brain, chewed up by anger and lost in the ensuing talk of severance packages, letters of recommendation, and tips for building the bulletproof resume. Who are you kidding you wouldn’t kill yourself anyway—too much of a coward—but you’ll do the next best thing. In a weak moment, with no Plan B, you’ll wander into Tim Chlebinski’s office, your immediate supervisor, sit down in one of the two merlot-colored chairs and after pleasantries, small talk, chats about the weather, you’ll say Tim, I’m sorry. Tim, I can’t do this anymore. Tim will of course be disappointed. He’ll get up and close the door, ask you to reconsider. Think about what you’re giving up, he’ll say. The remaining six months. The severance. You still have time. He’ll lean in close and in that candid way, as if you were real, honest buddies, neighbors confiding in each other, say, All right Harvey, what’s really going on?


Jon Mcgill lives in Omaha and works evenings at a local hospital where he is sometimes called upon to clean blood off the floor. Occasionally he makes up wild encounters, writes about them, and tries to sell them for money.

Read more stories by Jon Mcgill


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