"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison


The Fairies Under My Desk

The Fairies Under My Desk

The fairies under my desk are a shy group. They don’t like crowds, they don’t like loud noises, and most of all, they don’t like attention. Their bodies are made of bent paper clips, old rubber bands, rusted thumbtacks, and discarded erasers—all held together by far too much rubber cement. They first crawled out into the back of my mind--a singular, ignored thought--on the day of Mr. Gówno’s promotion. On the day he walked into the office and everyone but me got tossed out.

Mr. Gówno pushed into and surveyed the room where we worked and shook his head. The artistically inclined night staff had arranged our desks into a cubist landscape before they lost their jobs. He pointed at my co-workers and said, “You’re done. Get out. Leave. We don’t need you lazy bums anymore.”

I had worked in public relations for Patriot Guns & Ammo along with Bob, Chuck, Fat Larry, Skinny Larry, Big-boned Billy, Alice, and Grandpa Tim. We responded to complaints about misfires and faulty triggers that resulted in death with mailers. They informed the complainant that the government was coming for, and would confiscate, their guns unless they bought more guns with which to defend their current guns.

Security guards filed into the room and forced them out of the office in a single file line with only the clothes on their backs. Family pictures, personal items, the jackets they had taken off were all abandoned as the security guards ejected them from the building into a cold world painted gray with storm clouds. They would not return for what they had left behind and they could not send for them; their mementos would instead fuel the flames that heated the office for but an instant before turning to ash.

After they finally wrestled Grandpa Tim’s hulking frame to the ground and tossed him into the street Mr. Gówno turned to me and said, “Now you’re in charge of this division. You can do anything you need to except hire people, only I can do that. Oh, by the way, I’ve been promoted.”

“Promoted?” I said.

“Yes, promoted. They promoted me for saving the company millions of dollars a year. It’s all thanks to my forward-thinking management style,” he said.

His chest puffed out with pride as he said it.

“So, does that mean I’m alone now?”

Mr. Gówno laughed and shook his head.

“No, of course not. We’re going to be bringing in some new talent soon. I’d never leave you all alone here, to do the work of a whole team. Besides, Steven is still here.”

He left before I could explain that Skin-tight Steve, our name for the wrinkled old prune that used to sit in the corner, had died a year ago today. I don’t think Mr. Gówno cared.

***

The fairies under my desk didn’t come out right away. While I could hear them skittering in the distance and I caught glimpses of their profiles sitting in the corners of my eyes, I never could get a good look at them. They didn’t trust people much, which is understandable given everything that’s happened.

That was a year ago, since then I had toiled late night after late night to keep up with the work load. My wife, had I ever been lucky enough to meet someone, would have left me a long time ago, like my dog did. He disappeared with my television one night. My neighbor said he ran off, tail wagging, behind a burglar. She didn’t have the heart to try and stop him. I don’t think my dog liked living beneath a thick layer of collection notices.

Since I didn’t have time to replace the locks at my apartment after the robbery, I’ve lived in the office for the past few months. It hasn’t been all that bad I suppose, I had it worse in college. My freshman roommate had been born-again the week before the semester started.

What used to be our office, but is now only mine, has both a bathroom and kitchenette. I took down the cubicle walls and created a small makeshift bedroom out of them, furnished with a threadbare cot. I couldn’t afford anything better but I had no time to sleep anyway, there’s been too much work for luxuries like sleep.

Despite Mr. Gówno’s promise, I am still alone. Except for the fairies under my desk. I go weeks at a time without seeing another person, I haven’t even had time to visit my mother.

After dark those of us who remain haunt the halls of the building, echoes of our former selves unable to look at another for fear of seeing ourselves in their eyes and breaking down. On the darkest nights, when I go shopping, after I can no longer stand to avoid the eyes of those restless ghosts, I use the automated checkout since all the cashiers have gone home for the night. The roads are always empty, even the police ignore me. I don’t speed despite the lack of a deterrent.

When the sun sets and twilight envelops my world and the painful fact I am alone surfaces in my conscious mind, I sate it by conversing with my shadow. Not a living shadow cast by the blazing sun, but a lifeless shadow cast only by the weak fluorescents bolted to the ceiling.

After a time, I began to receive assignments from billing and quality control. I sent the e-mails back the first few times, assuming a mistake, before ignoring them. When I found a trolley full of files in my office after my weekly trip to the grocer, I decided to go see Mr. Gówno the next day about the mix-up.

I had never gone to the interior of the company building until now, my section was on the perimeter, so the state of everything surprised me. As I made my way to Mr. Gówno’s office I had to brush away cobwebs and take deliberate steps so as not to trip as I navigated mountains of paper in the dark hallways. I could hear the clacking of a dozen or so keyboards off in the distance. We weren’t human, not really, not anymore. More machine than anything, we were thermal batteries fueled by sugar and protein meant to power a machine from which we saw no benefit. A machine that would dispose of, and replace, us when we lost the ability to hold a charge.

The closer I got to the executive’s section, the cleaner and more well-lit everything became. Before long it looked more like an office than an abandoned building.

I knocked once on the gleaming grained oak door, my eyes level with the gold leaf that read “Rupert Gówno, Co-Vice Vice President.” A voice said “enter” so I gripped the polished brass doorknob and entered the room.

I had stepped into another world. What felt like natural light bathed me for the first time in months. My eyes blinked as they adjusted to the change. Mr. Gówno sat in a shining marble room, behind a desk made of wood salvaged from Blackbeard's legendary flagship: Queen Anne's Revenge.

He looked up from his sleek, new computer as I stood in the doorway. “Let me guess,” he said, “you’re here about the extra work, right?”

I nodded, but before I could take a step into the office or say anything he held his hand out to stop me. I stood rigid in the door.

“We’ve merged your division with both billing and quality control. We thought those jobs are so like what you’re already doing that you may as well do them too,” he said.

“But I can’t possibly keep up with all this,” I said.

Gówno looked down at his computer.

“It’s not like there are a whole lot of other jobs out there,” he said.

He was right, there weren’t. I had checked. I had checked many times, the jobs that were out there demanded decades of experience. Any queries I sent out may as well have been cast into the void and promptly forgotten.

As I stood in his doorway Gówno ignored me. I couldn’t say anything, so I left his office and made my way back into the darkness.

***

In the weeks that followed I began to fall asleep at my desk more often. I could never remember falling asleep and no matter how often it happened my exhaustion never abated. All the while the scratching of little feet against the floor grew louder.

The first time I saw the fairies that lived under my desk, they were typing away at my computer and shuffling through my papers. They looked nothing like people, they looked nothing like fairies. As they moved, rubber bands pulled at paperclips and facilitated movement. Every move they made showed the inner-workings of their office supply anatomy.

I jumped to my feet and screamed like a two-year-old. You would too if office supplies ran around on your desk. That’s when they saw me. They didn’t attack, instead, to my surprise, they ran around in a panic until two of them crashed into each other and exploded into a flurry of office supplies.

When they saw what happened the others stopped and expertly put them back together. After the two were back to normal, one of them stepped forward as the other cowered behind it.

They did not speak. They did not need to. You see, the fairies under my desk communicate with telepathy. It isn’t the sort of telepathy you’re thinking of though, they send images into the minds of those they want to communicate with.

My mind flooded with their past. Waves of green trees overtook me, I coughed up the scents of pine, oak, and maple. There they were, the fairies under my desk, running and frolicking in a forest. They were not made of discarded office supplies, but of leaves, twigs, and pinecones—held together by maple syrup.

This is what they had been before the office building. Before they were made to sit at a desk and labor for the profit of others. The fairies under my desk were not made to shuffle papers and type at a computer. They were not made to take showers in an office bathroom and to make dinners in a small kitchenette. We were not made to climb over mountains of paper just to get anywhere and to read about people blowing their hands off with guns much too large for them to control. I was not made to sleep alone under an itchy blanket every night and have silent conversations with my own shadow.

I knew what the fairies under my desk wanted. They did not need to show it to me, but they did anyway. It made me feel warm and free.

The door swung open and cut us off. They all jumped into my lap and slid down my leg as Gówno walked into the room.

“On the phone? I can come back,” he said.

“No sir, I’m free,” I said.

“Good, I don’t really have time to come back anyway.”

Gówno walked up to my desk. I could feel the fairies crowd around my feet and shiver as he pulled up a chair and sat down.

“Listen, the company is going through hard times right now. We need to cut back. Unfortunately, there isn’t much left to cut, so we need to give everyone below the executive level a 30 percent pay cut. That includes you. If the economy were better we wouldn’t have to do this, understand?” said Gówno.

He fiddled with a diamond cufflink on his newly tailored suit as he spoke.

“But I don--,” I began before he cut me off with a quick wave of his manicured hand.

“Sure, you do. Sure, you do,” he said. “The economy is bad, everyone needs to tighten their belts these days.”

“But profits are up,” I said.

He laughed.

“That doesn’t mean we’re doing well. You know how shareholders are. Between them and executive compensation we’re barely making anything at all,” he said, “By the way, you’ve got three crates of personal mail in the mailroom. Collection notices and medical bills I’m told. We’re not the damn post office so get a P.O. Box or something. If you don’t I’ll start docking your pay.”

With that, he left and slammed the door on his way out.

I didn’t—I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand. I sat in silence and made my decision.

I would help the fairies under my desk gain their freedom from this office. I would help them reclaim their homeland. I would not do so for them, but for myself. In the vain hope I could find redemption and a way to start over.

I brushed aside the claim from a woman who had somehow shot herself in the uterus from inside her own body and left the office. In the twilight hours when the moon prepares for the end of its shift and the sun begins to stir I drove across the empty town without a care for the traffic laws. There was no one in my world to enforce them.

I bought a jerry can from the local gas station and filled it up. The station attendants were arriving, they were the first outside people I had seen in weeks. I had almost forgotten how to speak. They didn’t give me a second look when I asked if I had picked out the most flammable type of gasoline.

Grandpa Tim always kept some matches in the drawer of his desk, next to his cigars. I lit one and took a puff. My lung convulsed and my windpipe tried to strangle me. I exhaled and my breathing returned to normal as I flicked the cigar onto a pile of gasoline drenched papers. I left the office building.

The first rays of the sun pierced the night sky and warmed the cool, dewy air. I could feel that warmth on my pale skin. Relics from the 90’s rusted in the mostly empty parking lot as a few luxury offerings gleamed in the morning sun. I sat on the hood of my old, beat-up car, basking in the warm sun as it peaked over the horizon line.

Everything caught fire quicker than I thought it would. The fairies under my desk wailed in joy, pained cries of happiness as their physical bodies gave way and they took on a new form: fire. They shouted, calling each other for help, as they ran through the halls and over the mountains of paper, bounding from peak to peak as they turned their prison to ash. 


John Zurz is a freelance writer and editor living in Queens, NY.

Cover photo by Carolina Bonito on Unsplash

The Caged Pearl

The Caged Pearl

La Croix

La Croix